Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. IV (1776)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. IV (1776) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889). Vol. IV (1776).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
New York, 11 May, 1776.
I am now to acknowledge the receipt of your favors of the 4 and 7 Instt. with their several inclosures, and am exceedingly glad that before the Resolution respecting Lt. Colo. Ogden came to hand, I had ordered him to join his Regiment, and had quelled a disagreeable spirit both of mutiny and desertion which had taken place and seemed to be rising to a great degree in consequence of it—In order to effect it, I had the Regiment paraded, and ordering two more at the same time under arms, convinced them of their error and ill conduct, and obtained a promise for their good behavior in future. To such of them as had absconded, I gave pardons on their assurances to return to their duty again.
In my Letter of the 5 Instt which I had the honor of addressing you, I mentioned to Congress the refractory and mutinous conduct of Lieut. Grover of the 2d. Regiment and laid before them a copy of the proceedings of a Court Martial upon him and of his defence, with a view that such measures might be adopted as they should think adequate to his crime.1 I will now beg leave to inform them, that since then he has appeared sensible of his misconduct, and having made a written acknowledgement of his offence and begged pardon for it, as by the inclosed copy will appear, I thought it best to release him from his confinement and have ordered him to join his Regiment, which I hope will meet their approbation, and render any determination as to him unnecessary; observing, at the same time that I have endeavored, and I flatter myself not ineffectually, to support their authority and a due subordination in the army. I have found it of importance and highly expedient to yield many points in fact, without seeming to have done it, and this to avoid bringing on a too frequent discussion of matters which in a political view ought to be kept a little behind the curtain, and not be made too much the subjects of disquisition. Time only can eradicate and overcome customs and prejudices of long standing—they must be got the better of by slow and gradual advances.
I would here take occasion to suggest to Congress, (not wishing or meaning of myself to assume the smallest degree of power in any instance,) the propriety and necessity of having their sentiments respecting the filling up the vacancies and issuing commissions to officers, especially to those under the rank of field-officers. Had I literally complied with the directions given upon this subject, when I first engaged in the service, and which I conceived to be superseded by a subsequent resolve for forming the army upon the present establishment, I must have employed one clerk for no other business than issuing warrants of appointment, and giving information to Congress for their confirmation or refusal. It being evident from the necessity of the thing, that there will be frequent changes and vacancies in office, from death and a variety of other causes, I now submit it to them, and pray their direction, whether I am to pursue that mode, and all the ceremonies attending it, or to be at liberty to fill up and grant commissions at once to such, as may be fit and proper persons to succeed.
When I came from Cambridge, I left instructions with Colo. Knox of the Artillery Regiment for the regulation of his conduct, and among other things directed him immediately to send forward to this place Lt. Colo. Burbeck, who notwithstanding he received orders for that purpose has refused to come,—considering himself as he says in his answer to Colo. Knox, his Letter, (copies of which I have inclosed) bound in point of generosity to stay in the service of the province, tho I am told by Col. Knox that some of the members of the General Court on hearing of the matter informed him, that they did not consider him as engaged to them, and that he had no just pretext for his refusal. I thought it right to lay this matter before Congress, and submit it to them, whether Colo. Burbeck, who will or will not serve the Continent, or go to this or that place as it may suit his convenience and square with his pretended notions of generousity, shou’d be longer continued in office.1
Before I have done, with the utmost deference and respect, I would beg leave to remind Congress of my former letters and applications, respecting the appointment of proper persons to superintend and take direction of such prisoners, as have already fallen and will fall into our hands in the course of the war, being fully convinced, that, if there were persons appointed for, & who would take the whole management of them under their care, that the continent would save a considerable sum of money by it, and the prisoners be better treated and provided with real necessaries, than what they now are; and shall take the liberty to add, that it appears to me a matter of much importance, and worthy of consideration, that particular and proper places of security should be fixed on and established in the interior parts of the different governments for their reception.
Such establishments are agreeable to the practice and usage of the English and other nations, and are founded on principles of necessity and public utility. The advantages, which will arise from ’em, are obvious and many. I shall mention only two or three. They will tend much to prevent escapes, which are difficult to effect, when the public is once advertised, that the prisoners are restrained to a few stated and well-known places, and not permitted to goe from thence; and the more ingenious among them from disseminating and spreading their artful and pernicious intrigues and opinions throughout the country, which would influence the weaker and wavering part of mankind, and meet with but too favorable a hearing. Further, it will be less in their power to join and assist our enemies in cases of invasions, and will give us an opportunity always to know, from the returns of those appointed to superintend them, what number we have in possession, the force sufficient to check and suppress their hostile views in times of emergency, and the expenses necessary for their maintenance & support. Many other reasons might be adduced to prove the necessity and expediency of the measure. I shall only subjoin one more, and then have done on the subject, which is, that many of the towns, where prisoners have been already sent, not having convenience for or the means of keeping them, complain that they are burdensome; and have become careless, inattentive, and altogether indifferent whether they escape or not; and those of ’em that are restricted to a closer confinement, the limits of jail, neglected, and not treated with that care and regard, which Congress wish.1
I have not received further intelligence of the German troops2 since my letter of the 7th instant, covering Mr. Cushing’s despatches: but, lest the account of their coming should be true, may it not be advisable and good policy to raise some companies of our Germans to send among them when they arrive, for exciting a spirit of disaffection and desertion? If a few sensible and trusty fellows could get with them, I should think they would have great weight and influence with the common soldiery, who certainly have no enmity towards us, having received no injury nor cause of quarrel from us. The measure having occurred, and appearing to me expedient, I thought it prudent to mention it for the consideration of Congress. Having received a letter from General Ward, advising that Congress have accepted his resignation, and praying to be relieved, and it being necessary that a general officer should be sent to take the command of the troops at Boston, especially if the army should arrive, which is talked of, and which some consider as a probable event, I must beg leave to recommend to Congress the appointment of some brigadier-generals, not having more here, (nor so many at this time) than are essential to the government, and conducting the forces and works, that are carrying on. Generals Sullivan and Thompson being ordered to Canada, I cannot spare one more general officer from hence without injuring the service greatly, and leaving the army here without a sufficient number.1 Having frequent application from the Committee of Safety and others, about an exchange of prisoners, and not having authority to pursue any mode in this instance, than that marked out by a resolve of Congress some considerable time ago, I hope they will pardon me when I wish them to take under consideration such parts of my letter of the 22d ultimo, as relate to this subject and for their determination upon it. I shall then have it in my power to give explicit and satisfactory answers to those who shall apply.2
[1 ]“Lieut. Grover, of the 2d Regiment (commanded by Col. James Reed,) having been tried by a General Court Martial, for ‘insulting Capt. Wilkinson, disobeying his orders and abusive language’ was found guilty of the charge, and yet mulct’d of half a month’s pay only—a punishment so exceedingly disproportioned to the offence, that the General resolved to lay the whole proceeding before the Congress, and know whether they inclined to continue an officer in their service who had mis behaved in so capital a point; but Lieut. Grover appearing to be thoroughly convinced of the error of his conduct, and having promised strict obedience to the orders of his Captain, and other superior officers, for the time to come, the General (before any determination of Congress could be had upon the matter) ordered him to be released, and to join his regiment; but has it now in command from Congress, to signify to the Army, that no promotion upon vacancies, shall take place merely by succession, without their authority, insomuch as they have reserved and will exercise the power, of giving Commissions to persons of merit, regardless of any claim by succession. Of this all officers are desired to take notice, as it may serve on the one hand to prevent the dissatisfaction which have but too frequently arisen, from an idea, that all promotions should be confined to regiments, and go in regular succession, and because on the other hand, it opens a large field for the rewarding of merit, which ought, and is hoped will be, a powerful excitement to the brave and active, to signalize themselves in the noble cause they are engaged in.
[1 ]“Resolved, that lieutenant-colonel Burbeck be dismissed from the Continental Service.”—Journals of Congress, 25 May, 1776.
[1 ]See Journals of Congress, 21 May, 1776.
[2 ]German troops said to be coming from Europe to reinforce the British army in America. Intelligence to this effect had been communicated by Mr. Cushing.
[1 ]Congress resolved, in compliance with the above request, on the 14th of May, that General Washington should order a major-general to take command in the eastern department, and also send a brigadier on that service.
[2 ]Read May 14th. Referred to Livingston, Jefferson, and J. Adams.