George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Duane, 26 December 1780

To James Duane

New Windsor Decr 26th 1780

My dear Sir,

I received with much thankfulness your confidential letter of the 9th Instt, and am greatly obliged by the affectionate expressions of personal regard which are contain’d in it—an unreserved communication of sentiments, accompanying such information as you may be at liberty to give, will ever be pleasing to me, & cannot fail of being useful—In this light I view, & value your last letter; some parts of which are new, agreable, & instructive—while that part of it which relates to the transaction at the Court of V——is wonderfully astonishing.

There are two things (as I have often declared) which in my opinion are indispensably necessary to the well being and good government of our public affairs—these are—greater powers to Congress—and more responsibility & permanency in the executive bodies—If individual States conceive themselves at liberty to reject, or alter any act of Congress—which in a full representation of them—has been solemnly debated and decided on—it will be madness in us to think of prosecuting the War—And if Congress suppose that boards composed of their own body and always fluctuating, are competent to the great business of War (which requires not only close application but a constant & uniform track of thinking and acting) they will most assuredly deceive themselves—Many, many instances might be adduced in proof of this, but to a mind as observant as yours there is no need to enumerate them—One however, as we feelingly experience it, I shall name—It is the want of cloathing, when I have every reason to be convinced, that the expence which the public is run to in this article would cloath our Army as well as any Troops in Europe—In place of which, we have inumerable objects of most distressing want.

Necessity alone can Justify the present mode of obtaining supplies—for besides the hazard & difficulty we meet with in procuring them, I am well convinced that the public is charged with double what it receives—and what it receives is doubly charged—so expensive & precarious is the present system—When the Army Marched for Winter quarters I visited the Hospitals and back communication from Pensylvania to this place1—In the neighbourhood of Pitts-town I fell in with a parcel of Cattle which were going to be Slaughtered and Salted, and can assure you upon my honr, that besides being immensely poor, they were so small, that I am convinced they would not average (the four nett quarters)2 175 lbs.—some could not exceed one hundred weight—and others were mere Calves—These pass by the head, and the State, or States that furnish them will have the reputation of supplying that number of Merchantable Bullocks; when the fact is, that next Summer a starving Man would scarce eat the Beef (they were about to put up) after the Salt had extracted the little fat and juices that were in it—In the drove I saw, there were about an hundred—and my information extended to about Eight or 900 more of the same kind, in the neighbourhood—I directed the Commissary to select the best for salting, and let the others be eaten fresh; as it would be a waste of Salt, Barrels, & time to put it up. I relate this as a matter coming under my own observation—many other instances of a similar Nature might be given from information—but I avoid it.3

This letter will accompany one to Congress on the Subject of promotion4—That of lineal instead of Regimental, I am perswaded, as well from the opinions I have heard, as from the reason & nature of the thing, will be most consistent with Justice, & most pleasing to each State line.

With respect to the rise of Colonels, & promotion of General Officers I have no wish to gratify, except that which I have expressed in my public letter, of fixing some principle, to avoid discontent and the consequences which flow from it—Irregular promotion, unless there i⟨s⟩ some obvious cause for it, is not only injurious in any Service, but in our⟨s⟩ is derogatory of the dignity of Congre⟨ss⟩ for the Officer who is superceded and a⟨f⟩terwards restored, is hurt by the firs⟨t⟩ act, & does not feel himself obliged ⟨by⟩ the latter (considering it as an act of justice only) while the two acts stand as an undeniable proof upon record of there b⟨eing⟩ no established principle—or that there ⟨is⟩ wanting information—or a want of firm⟨ness⟩ in Congress to resist importunity; because the restoring act, as I have observed before, is an incontestible proof of one or the other of these three things.

At present we are in no wan⟨t⟩ of Major Generals—in this part of th⟨e⟩ Army at least—but while I am on th⟨e⟩ subject of promotion—and while the thing is in my mind I beg leave to mention, that if at any time hereafter th⟨ere⟩ Should be a Brigadier, Junior to Gen. Knox, promoted before him, he will be lost to the Service; though he should the⟨re⟩after be restored to his place—I menti⟨on⟩ it, because under the idea of State p⟨ro⟩motion he can never rise—and because I am well perswaded that the want of him at the head of the Artillery, would be irrepairable.

I cannot conclude without mentioning the case of Lieutt Colen⟨el⟩ Smith as deserving of notice, if a remedy can be applied—This Gentle⟨man⟩ is of the remaining Sixteen Regim⟨ents⟩ and though one of the oldest, and (without disparagement to others) one of the best Battalion Officers of the whole line, must quit the Service without a chance for staying, althou⟨gh⟩ he is extremely anxious to do so. He has, during the last campaign, been in the Inspectorate department, where I think he may still be continued, with his present rank, without injury to anyone—to his own satisfaction—and the public benefit—without locating his Services to any particular Corps, but to be employed as circumstances may require.5

Mrs Washington, impressed with a grateful sense of your kind intention of accompanying her to Trenton, Joins me in thanks for it, & complimts to you—Mr Tilghman (the only person of my family at this moment with me) also presents his Complimts—With every sentiment of perfect esteem & regard I am—Dr Sir Yr most Obt, Obligd, & affece Hbl. Servt

Go: Washington

ALS (photostat), ViMtV; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1See GW to Samuel Huntington, 28 Nov., and n.12 to that document.

2GW refers to the common division of quadruped carcasses into four parts, each of which includes a leg.

3For the establishment of salting operations at Pittstown, N.J., see Ephraim Blaine to GW, 10 Nov., n.2.

5In his reply on 2 Jan. 1781, Duane notified GW that Congress had resolved to continue Lt. Col. William Stephens Smith as an inspector with his present rank (PHi: Gratz Collection; see also GW to Smith, 4 Nov. 1780).

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