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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. V (1776-1777) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. V (1776-1777).
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Morristown, 28 May, 1777.
The enclosed is a copy of a letter received yesterday from General Howe. Congress will perceive, by referring to the copy of his letter of the 21st of April transmitted in mine of the 26th, that he persevered in his demand for an equal number of prisoners to be returned for those sent out by him; which has been the subject of controversy between us. As General Howe has called upon me again for my final decision upon the subject, and Congress are fully possessed of it, having received transcripts of every paper respecting it, I wish them to take the matter under their earliest consideration, and to inform me as soon as they can, whether the grounds on which it has been conducted by me are agreeable to their ideas, and whether my objections are or are not to be departed from. The affair is particularly stated in my letter of the 9th ultimo to General Howe, in answer to the paper addressed to me by Lieutenant-Colonel Walcott; copies of which were enclosed in my letter to the President on the 10th of the same month. The dispute, so far as General Lee is concerned, rests at present on their declaring him exchangeable, as other prisoners are, on the principle of equality of rank; to ensure which, or his safety, Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell and the Hessian field-officers are detained. The other objection to returning their prisoners is, that a great proportion of those sent out by them were not fit subjects of exchange when released, and were made so by the severity of their treatment and confinement, and therefore a deduction should be made from the list.
Good faith seems to require, that we should return as many of theirs at least as we received effectives from them; I mean such as could be considered capable of being exchanged; and perhaps sound policy, that the agreement subsisting for exchanges should continue. On the other hand it may be said, that our prisoners in general, in the enemy’s hands at present, will have greater security by our retaining them, and that General Howe will be less apt to relinquish any part of his claim, the more the number in our hands is diminished by an exchange.
I confess I am under great difficulty in this business. But what is more particularly the cause of this application, is the latter part of the first paragraph of the enclosed copy,—“and for your determinationrespecting the prisoners now here, that I may make my arrangements accordingly.” This is couched in terms of great ambiguity; and I am really at a loss what interpretation to give it; whether he intends that his conduct respecting them shall be as I advise (this appears more favorable than can well be expected), or that, if the previous demand is not answered in a satisfactory manner, he shall consider them on a different footing from that on which our former prisoners were, and the agreement totally dissolved. We are told government offered the prisoners they took to the India Company, and they have procured an act dispensing with that of the habeas corpus in particular cases of persons supposed inimical to them. How far they or their commanders may adopt these measures, remains to be known. I have only mentioned them as they respect the general subject of my letter.1
Notwithstanding my recommendation, agreeably to what I conceived to be the sense of Congress, Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell’s treatment continues to be such as cannot be justified either on the principles of generosity or strict retaliation; as I have authentic information, and I doubt not you will have the same, that General Lee’s situation is far from being rigorous or uncomfortable. Except his not being permitted to go at large on parole, he has reason to be content with every other circumstance of his treatment.
I am just moving to Boundbrook, from whence I returned yesterday morning. On Monday morning a body of the enemy advanced near that post. They retreated, on seeing a detachment march to meet them. There was some firing at long shot, but without any great damage. We had only three men slightly wounded. What their loss was, I know not; three of their light-horse were killed. By advices from the eastward, the troops are coming from Rhode Island.
I have the honor to be, &c.1
[1 ]A bill was introduced into Parliament in February by the British ministry, enabling the king to “detain and secure persons charged with, or suspected of, high treason, committed in North America, or on the high seas, or of piracy.” The purpose of the measure was practically to suspend the habeas corpus privilege to all suspected persons to be apprehended, and to confine as prisoners of war prisoners taken from the “rebels,” and in the act of piracy. After a long debate the bill was passed with some amendments in the House, and met with no opposition in the Lords, the Earl of Abingdon alone entering a protest.
[1 ]Read in Congress May 29th, and referred to the Board of War.