George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Mathews, 4 October 1780

Tappan Octr 4th 1780.

My dear Sir,

I have had the honor to receive your favors of the 15th and 24th Ulto. I thank you much for your kind communications which are rendered more pleasing as they are offered without reserve.

As Congress has already allowed the alternative of raising Men for twelve Months, opinions on the propriety of the measure can be of no avail, but since you have done me the honor to ask mine I have no scruple in declaring I most firmly believe that the Independence of the United States never will be established ’till there is an Army on foot for the War, that if we are to rely on occasional or Annual Levies, we must sink under the expence; and ruin must follow.

From an opinion which seems to have influenced Congress, that Men cannot be drafted for the War (but which, with due deference to their judgment I think is a mistaken one, as it seems to be a prevailing sentiment I have heard that nothing but an Army on a permanent footing will do), Gentn unacquainted with the true state of facts, and struck with the magnitude of the bounty which in the first instance must be given to induce Men to engage for this period, without attending to the Sum which is given for a years service perhaps in reality for a much less time, tho a Year may be mentioned as the ostensible term, and that this sum is more than doubled at every new inlistment, without considering the immense waste of Arms, Ammunition, Stores, Camp utensils &c. incidental to these changes, without adverting to the pay & subsistence of two sets of Men at the same instant (the old & new Levies) & the expence of marching & countermarching them to and from Camp—Without taking into the acct the interruption which agriculture & all kinds of handicraft meet with, by which our supplies are lessened & the prices are considerably increased—And (wch is of the greatest importance) without considering the difference between a healthy Army (which is generally the case of one composed of old Soldiers—and a sickly one, which is commonly the case with respect to the new & the lives lost on acquiring a seasoning, and without considering that in all exchanges of privates Prisoners of War, we give the Enemy a certain permanent force and add but little and sometimes nothing to our own strength, as the terms of service of those we receive in exchange are already expired, or terminate often soon after. Without attending I say to these things, which are remote, & require close investigation, & a recurrence to the public expenditures to be masters of them, they conclude, that the bounty necessary to engage Men for the War is beyond our abilities—reject it—and adopt another System which involves ultimately ten times the expense & infinitely greater distress, While in the one case we should have a well disciplined Army, ready at all times & upon all occasions to take advantage of circumstances in the other, the most favourable moments may pass away unimproved, because the composition of our Troops is such that we dare not in the beginning of a Campaign, attempt enterprizes on acct of the rawness of the men, nor at the latter end of it because they are about to leave us (after the immense toil & pains wch the Officers have taken to teach them their duty) and we have another set to attend to.

From long experience and the fullest conviction, I have been, & now am decidedly in favr of a permanent force; but knowing the jealousies wch have been entertained on this head; Heaven knows how unjustly, and the cause of which could never be apprehended were a due regard had to our local and other circumstances, even if ambitious views could be supposed to exist; and that our political helm was in another direction, I forbore to press my Sentiments for a time—but at a moment when we are tottering on the brink of a precipice, silence would have been criminal.

The amendment proposed by you for keeping the Old Levies in the field ’till the new should arrive would certainly be a most desirable thing if it could be accomplished; but I doubt the practicability of it; for if there is not a definite term fixed with the men, we could as easily get them for the War, & if there was a period fixed, altho the condition of a relief should be annexed to it (which more than probably would be kept as much as possible out of their sight) we never should be able to retain them. desertion therefore, & a genl loss of public arms would be the inevitable consequence of an attempt to detain them after they had compleated what they conceived to be the term of their engagement.

I felt much pain in reading that part of your letter which speaks of the reception of the Comee of Co-operation in Congress. At a time when public harmony is so essential, when we should aid and assist each other with all our abilities—When our hearts should be open to information, and our hands ready to administer relief, to find distrusts & jealousies taking possession of the mind, & a party spirit prevailing, is a most melancholy reflection, & forebodes no good. I shall always be happy to hear from you, being with the truest esteem & Rregard Dr Sir Yr most Obt & afft. servt

Go. W.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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