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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. III (1775-1776) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889). Vol. III (1775-1776).
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Cambridge, 9 February, 1776.
The purport of this letter will be directed to a single object. Through you I mean to lay it before Congress, and, at the same time that I beg their serious attention to the subject, to ask pardon for intruding an opinion, not only unasked, but, in some measure, repugnant to their resolves.
The disadvantages attending the limited enlistment of troops are too apparent to those, who are eyewitnesses of them, to render any animadversions necessary; but to gentlemen at a distance, whose attention is engrossed by a thousand important objects, the case may be otherwise.
That this cause precipitated the fate of the brave and much-to-be-lamented General Montgomery, and brought on the defeat, which followed thereupon, I have not the most distant doubt of; for, had he not been apprehensive of the troops leaving him at so important a crisis, but continued the blockade of Quebec, a capitulation, from the best accounts I have been able to collect, must inevitably have followed. And that we were not obliged at one time to dispute these lines, under disadvantageous circumstances, (proceeding from the same cause, to wit, the troops disbanding of themselves before the militia could be got in,) is to me a matter of wonder and astonishment, and proves, that General Howe was either unacquainted with our situation, or restrained by his instructions from putting any thing to hazard, till his reinforcements should arrive.
The instance of General Montgomery—I mention it, because it is a striking one,—for a number of others might be adduced proves, that, instead of having men to take advantage of circumstances, you are in a manner compelled, right or wrong, to make circumstances yield to a secondary consideration. Since the 1st of December, I have been devising every means in my power to secure these encampments; and though I am sensible that we never have, since that period, been able to act on the offensive, and at times not in a condition to defend, yet the cost of marching home one set of men, bringing in another, the havoc and waste occasioned by the first, the repairs necessary for the second, with a thousand incidental charges and inconveniences, which have arisen, and which it is scarce possible either to recollect or describe, amount to near as much, as the keeping up a respectable body of troops the whole time, ready for any emergency, would have done.
To this may be added, that you never can have a well disciplined army.
To bring men [to be] well acquainted with the duties of a soldier, requires time. To bring them under proper discipline and subordination, not only requires time, but is a work of great difficulty, and, in this army, where there is so little distinction between the officers and soldiers, requires an uncommon degree of attention. To expect, then, the same service from raw and undisciplined recruits, as from veteran soldiers, is to expect what never did and perhaps never will happen. Men, who are familiarized to danger, meet it without shrinking; whereas troops unused to service often apprehend danger where no danger is. Three things prompt men to a regular discharge of their duty in time of action; natural bravery, hope of reward, and fear of punishment. The two first are common to the untutored and the disciplined soldier; but the last most obviously distinguishes the one from the other. A coward, when taught to believe, that, if he breaks his ranks and abandons his colors, will be punished with death by his own party, will take his chance against the enemy; but a man, who thinks little of the one, and is fearful of the other, acts from present feelings, regardless of consequences.
Again, men of a day’s standing will not look forward; and from experience we find, that, as the time approaches for their discharge, they grow careless of their arms, ammunition, camp utensils, &c. Nay, even the barracks themselves have felt uncommon marks of wanton depredation, and lay us under fresh trouble and additional expense in providing for every fresh set, when we find it next to impossible to procure such articles, as are absolutely necessary in the first instance. To this may be added the seasoning, which new recruits must have to a camp, and the loss consequent thereupon. But this is not all. Men engaged for a short, limited time only, have the officers too much in their power; for, to obtain a degree of popularity in order to induce a second enlistment, a kind of familiarity takes place, which brings on a relaxation of discipline, unlicensed furloughs, and other indulgences incompatible with order and good government; by which means the latter part of the time, for which the soldier was engaged, is spent in undoing what you were aiming to inculcate in the first.
To go into an enumeration of all the evils we have experienced, in this late great change of the army, and the expenses incidental to it, to say nothing of the hazard we have run, and must run, between the discharging of one army and enlistment of another, (unless an enormous expense of militia is incurred,) would greatly exceed the bounds of a letter. What I have already taken the liberty of saying will serve to convey a general idea of the matter; and therefore I shall, with all due deference, take the freedom to give it as my opinion, that, if the Congress have any reason to believe, that there will be occasion for troops another year, and consequently for another enlistment, they would save money, and have infinitely better troops, if they were, even at a bounty of twenty, thirty, or more dollars, to engage the men already enlisted (till January next,) and such others as may be wanted to complete the establishment, for and during the war. I will not undertake to say, that the men can be had upon these terms; but I am satisfied, that it will never do to let the matter alone, as it was last year, till the time of service was near expiring. The hazard is too great, in the first place; in the next, the trouble and perplexity of disbanding one army and raising another at the same instant, and in such a critical situation as the last was, are scarcely in the power of words to describe, and such as no man, who has experienced them once, will ever undergo again.
If Congress should differ from me in sentiment upon this point, I have only to beg that they will do me the justice to believe, that I have nothing more in view, than what to me appears necessary to advance the public weal, although in the first instance it will be attended with a capital expense; and that I have the honor to be, &c.1
[1 ]Read in Congress, February 22. Referred to the Committee of the Whole.