Newburgh 11th Feby 1783
I am about to write you a Letter on a subject equally important & delicate—which may be extensive in its consequences & serious in its nature. I shall confine myself to the recital of what I believe to be facts, and leave it with you to make deductions.
The printed remonstrance of Mr Chittenden, & his Council addressed to the President of Congress—& founded upon the resolves of the 5th of December last, contains a favourable recital—in their own behalf—of what I suppose to be facts, but if my memory serves me, it is an uncandid performance;inasmuch as it keeps out of view an important transaction of theirs consequent of those resolves. Be this as it may, matters seem to be approaching too fast to a disagreeable Issue for the quiet of my Mind. The resolves on one hand, and the remonstrance on the other, unless it should be annulled by their Legislature at their next meeting, which I do not expect, seems to leave little room for an amicable decision.
Matters being thus situated, permit me to ask how far, & by what means coercion is to be extended? The Army, I presume, will be the answer to the latter. circumstances alone, for no determination after blood is once drawn, can prescribe bounds to the former. It has been said, but of this you can judge better than I, that the Delegates from the New England States in Congress—or the Majority of them,—are willing to admit these People into the Union as an Independent & Sovereign State—be this as it may, two things I am sure of—viz.—that they have a powerful interest in those States—and have pursued very politic measures to strengthen & increase it, long before I had any knowledge of the matter—& before the tendency of it was seen into, or suspected; by granting upon very advantageous terms, large Tracts of Land—in which I am sorry to find the Army in some degree have participated.
Let me next ask,by whom is that district of Country principally settled? And of whom is your present Army (I will not confinemyself to this part of it, but extend it to the whole) composed? the answer is evident —New Englandmen.
It has been the opinion of some, that the appearance of force would awe these People into submission—If the General Assembly should ratifie & confirm what Mr Chittenden & his Council has done, I shall be of a very different Sentiment. and moreover that it is not a trifling force that will subdue them, even supposing they do derive no aid from the Enemy in Canada. and that it will be a very arduous task endeed, if they should—to say nothing of a diversion which may, & doubtless will be created in their favor from New York, if the War with G.Britain should continue.
The Country is very Mountainous, full of Defiles& very strong. The Inhabitants for the most part are a hardy race, composed of that kind of People who are best calculated for Soldiers; in truth who are Soldiers—for many, many hundreds of them are Deserters from this Army who having acquired property there, would be desperate in the defence of it, well knowing they are fighting with halters about their Necks.
It may be asked if I am acquainted with the Sentiments of the Army on the subject of this dispute? I readily answer No: not intimately—it is a matter of too delicate a nature to agitate for the purpose of information—but I have heard many Officers of Rank & discernment,& have learnt by indirect enquiries, that others express the utmost horror at the very idea of shedding blood in an affair of this sort. comparing it in its consequences, tho’ not in principles, to the quarrel with Great Britain, who thought it was only to hold up the rod & all would be hush!
I cannot at this time undertake to Say there would be any difficulty with the Army if it should be ordered upon this Service, but I should be exceedingly unhappy to see the experiment made—for besides the reasons before suggested, I believe there would be great unwillingness in it to embrue their hands in the blood of their Brethren.
I have to add—that almost at the same instant, a number of the Printed Copies of the remonstrance were dissiminated through every part of the Army—I do not know what effect it may have, but the design is obvious.
I promised in the beginning of this letter, that I should content myself with a simple relation of facts—I shall therefore only lament that Congress did not in the commencement of this dispute, act decidedly. This matter, as you well know was much agitated last winter & a Committee of Congress with whom I had the honor to be in conference,and of wch I believe you were one,saw Mr Chittendens letter to me—& approved of my writing him an answer to the effect it was given. With great esteem & regard (and in much haste as Colo. Pickering is waiting I amDr Sir Yr most Obedt & Affecte Ser.
P.S. Altho’ there can be no doubt of Congress having received the Remonstrance, alluded to in this letter, I send, nevertheless, one of the printed Copies. G.W.
DLC: Papers of George Washington.