Office of Finance 5th February 1783.
I have received your Letter of the twenty ninth of last Month which gave me much Pain as the Subject of it appears to have affected your Mind in a Manner very distant from my Apprehensions. I myself never saw any Resolution of Congress limiting the Number of Rations to Women &c. but took it up on the Suggestion of the Secretary at War as the proper Standard when we were seeking for a Standard. I know not how far any Abuses had in that Respect prevailed. With your Consent I knew there could be none. It was however represented to me that the Drafts of Rations for Women under some of the Contracts were enormous. In a general System therefore it became necessary to establish a certain Rule. The Uncertainty of Drafts made by Officers, had destroyed that Clearness and Precision which is essential in the Settlement of Accounts. To obviate that Mischief the Subsistence was devised. There remained only the Differences as to the Number of Women and Children. When I have fully explained my Conceptions on the Subject you will clearly see that neither the Secretary at War nor myself had the most remote Idea of interfering in your Administration. Taking it for granted that there was such a Resolution as that mentioned it would follow that the Number allowed was either equal to the Number existing or greater or less. If equal there could be no Doubts. If greater it was to be presumed that the Officers would appropriate the Surplus to some Decorations of the Corps or other like Objects. If less the first Question which could arise would be whether the Number ought not to be reduced. And if not the second would be how should the Surplus be provided for. To this last the Answer is clear. The Commander in Chief or Commanding General is indubitably empowered to dispose of the public Property in Cases where the good of the Service requires it. A special Order would therefore be given to the Contractors for issuing fifty additional Rations per Day, or more if necessary to any particular Corps. This Order would support the Contractors Accounts and obtain the Provisions wanted. The Accounts for the several Corps would all remain Simple and clear as before, and the only Inconvenience would be the Surplus, drawn by some Corps. On this Subject I must observe 1st. That tho’ this Inconvenience be real with Respect to the Corps under your Excellencys immediate Command it is not so perceptible elsewhere, and in many Instances the general Rule will remedy an improper Excess. 2ly. That this general Rule for our own Troops will apply to the Case of british Prisoners of War who have Herds of Women with them. And 3ly. That the great Advantages which result from reducing every kind of Charge to an absolute Certainty so that a perfect Clearness may obtain in all public Accounts is sufficient to overbalance much greater Inconveniencies.
I again repeat my dear Sir that as there was not in my own Mind so I am perswaded there was not in General Lincoln’s the most distant Idea of Interference in the Line of your Department. An hundred different Occasions may arise in which it will be necessary for you to dispose of public Money, Provisions and Stores and I hope you will never hesitate on such Occasions at giving the proper Warrants.
You know our Situation and therefore I am sure you will never incur undue Expence and the kind Assurances you have given of Support to my Arrangements would have quieted any Doubts on that Subject if I had been capable of harboring them. With most sincere Esteem I am my dear Sir your most obedient humble Servant
DLC: Papers of George Washington.