George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Commissioners for Redressing the Grievances of the New Jersey Line, 27 January 1781

To the Commissioners for Redressing the Grievances
of the New Jersey Line

Ringwood [N.J.] Jany 27. 81


The fatal1 tendency of that spirit which has shown itself in the Pensylvania and Jersey lines, and which derived so much encouragement from impunity in the case of the former determined me at all events to pursue a different conduct with respect to the latter. For this purpose I detached a body of troops under Major General Howe with orders to compel the mutineers to unconditional submission and execute on the spot a few of the principal incendiaries.2 This has been effected this morning; and we have reason to believe the mutinous disposition of the troops is now completely subdued and succeeded by a genuine penitence.3

But having punished guilt and supported authority—it now becomes proper to do justice. I therefore wish the Commissioners as soon as convenient to enter upon the objects for which they have been appointed. But I think it my duty to observe to them the necessity of the greatest caution in discussing one article—the terms of the inlistments of the troops. In transacting this with the pensylvanians for want of proper care, the greatest part of the line has been dismissed, though only a small proportion was intitled to a dismission. Authentic and unequivocal proofs have been since found that a majority of the discharged men were fairly and explicitly inlisted for the war. This evil arose from admitting the oaths of the individuals themselves, before the vouchers could be assembled:4 From the temper of the soldiery who will scruple no means of getting rid of the service it becomes necessary5 to admit none but the most unsuspicious evidence in their favour. Generally on investigation the complaints on this head have appeared ill-founded—and as the presumption is strong against the soldier the proofs of an unfair detention ought to be equally strong. Men are extremely wanted—it is at an infinite expence they are procured and they ought not lightly to be released from their engagements.

Whenever a complaint has been made to me I have invariably directd an inquiry, for I have ever considered it as not less impolitic than unjust in our service to use fraud in engaging or retaining men—but as I mentioned above, the complaint has much oftener been found to originate6 in the levity of the soldier than in truth. I have the honor to be Gentlemen Your most Obedient & hum. servant.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The commissioners appointed by the New Jersey legislature to redress the grievances of the state’s Continental soldiers were James Caldwell, Frederick Frelinghuysen, and John Mehelm (see Frelinghuysen to GW, 20 Jan., and n.2 to that document). For a reply, see Caldwell to GW, 30 January.

GW also wrote from Ringwood on this date to the officer commanding the New Jersey brigade: “I inclose you a letter to the Commissioners appointed to inquire into and redress the grievances of the Jersey line which you will be pleased to deliver them. At the same time I am to desire you will make the subject of it an object of your particular attention—You will insist on the rights of the service, and take care to give the officers the fullest opportunity of furnishing evidence of the manner of inlistment. I am persuaded the Commissioners will be actuated by a proper spirit, but if there should appear to be too much lenity and indulgence in their measures—you are to interpose in preventing the discharges of the men ’till you can report to me the train in which the business is transacted—You will of course keep these instructions to yourself” (Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the Varick transcript is dated 26 Jan.). The enclosed recipient’s copy has not been found.

1Hamilton initially wrote “dangerous” on the draft and struck it out for this word.

2See GW to Robert Howe, 22 January. For the mutiny of the Pennsylvania line, see Anthony Wayne to GW, 2 Jan., and the source note to that document.

5Hamilton first wrote “a duty to the public” on the draft and struck out that phrase for this word.

6Hamilton inadvertently marked out the “e” on this word.

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