Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778)
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VI (1777-1778).
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
I have now the honor to acknowledge your several letters of the 21st, 29th, and 30th ultimo, with their enclosures, which have been duly received. It gives me pain to observe they appear to contain several implications by which my sensibility is not a little wounded. I find myself extremely embarrassed by the steps I had taken towards an exchange of prisoners, and the formation of a general cartel making more ample provision for their future accommodation and relief. The views of Congress seem to be very different from what I supposed them, when I entered into my late engagements with General Howe. Their resolution of the 30th ultimo, pointedly requiring a strict adherence to all former ones upon the subject, will in all probability render them impracticable. I considered some of their resolutions as dictated on the principle of retaliation, and did not imagine the terms they contained would be insisted upon in negotiating an agreement calculated to remedy the evils which occasioned them. In most respects they might be substantially complied with; but there are some points to which an exact conformity must of necessity destroy the idea of a cartel. One is the obliging of the enemy to pay gold and silver on equal terms for Continental currency, estimating the articles supplied them at their actual prices with us, as seems to be the design of the resolve of the 19th of December; another is, that, subjecting the inhabitants of these States, taken in arms against them, to trial and punishment, agreeable to the resolve of the 30th of the same month.
I am well aware that appearances ought to be upheld, and that we should avoid as much as possible recognising by any public act the depreciation of our currency; but I conceive this end would be answered, as far as might be necessary, by stipulating, that all money payments should be made in gold and silver, being the common medium of commerce among nations, at the rate of four shillings and six pence for a Spanish milled dollar; by fixing the price of rations on an equitable scale relatively to our respective circumstances; and providing for the payment of what we may owe, by sending in provision and selling it at their market. The rates of money, and the prices of provisions and other commodities, differ everywhere; and, in treaties of a similar nature between any two States, it is requisite, for mutual convenience, to ascertain some common ratio, for both the value of money in payments, and for the rates of those articles on which they may arise.
It was determined on mature consideration not to conclude any thing expressly, that should contradict the resolution of the 30th of December; but at the same time, if it is designed to be the rule of practice, it is easy to perceive it would at once overturn any cartel that could be formed. General Howe would never consent to observe it on his part, if such a practice were to exist on ours. Though the law ought not to be contravened by an express article admitting the exchangeability of such persons, yet, if it is not suffered to sleep, it is in vain to expect the operation of it will be acquiesced in by the enemy.1
The measures I have taken must evince, that it is my determination to pay the fullest attention to the interests of citizens, and to the rights of General Lee, in the treaty; and I think it but justice to the gentlemen appointed to negotiate it to declare, that I know them to be so fully impressed with the importance of both those objects, as to make them cheerfully observant of the injunctions of Congress, so far as not to conclude any agreement, of which the exchange of General Lee and the alternative respecting citizens are not essential parts. These points have been early determined on.
It is with no small concern, that I have been obliged to trouble Congress upon the subjects of this letter; and, should they appear to them in the same light they do to me, and they should think proper to remove the obstacles, which now oppose the business in hand, I must request they will be pleased to communicate their determination as expeditiously as possible, that the commissioners may govern themselves accordingly, and either proceed to forming a cartel, or put an end to the negotiation. Before the resolves of the 30th came to hand, they had met, and been in treaty two days, with a prospect of a favorable accommodation.
I am happy to inform Congress, that General Lee will be out on parole to-morrow in place of General Prescott; and I have every reason to expect, if the negotiation can be continued upon admissible terms, that his exchange will immediately follow the releasement of Colonel Campbell and the Hessian field-officers. It is agreed, that Lieutenant-Colonel Allen shall be exchanged for Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell.
The importunate applications of Colo. Lee1 and Maj: Swazey2 to leave the Service oblige me to lay the matter before Congress. Colo. Lee’s letter upon the subject was transmitted me the 25th of January, but hoping he might change his mind I deferred writing to Congress upon his request. He has renewed it again in urgent terms thro’ General Heath, and I have only to observe that it is a painful circumstance to see officers of their merit leaving the Service. It is the case every day. I shall be obliged by Congress informing me of the dates of the Resignations of the Colonels in the Virginia line. I have only received the date of Colo. Lewis’s.
Inclosed is a letter from Capt. Cottineau of the Ship Ferdinand with an Invoice of her cargo. The letter only came to hand yesterday, and as it is of an old date it is highly probable that the goods are sold. If they are not, from the Captain’s desire to give the public a preference in the Sale, Congress will have an opportunity of directing them to be purchased. Most of them would be proper for the Army. I have the honor to be, &c.
[1 ]This point is so clear, that the ground taken by Congress, and adhered to with pertinacity, seems very extraordinary. By the resolution of the 30th of December, all loyalists, or Americans in the British service, who should be taken in arms, were to be sent to the respective States to which they belonged, and suffer the penalties inflicted by the laws of such States upon traitors. Such a resolution was an effectual bar to any agreement for a general exchange. The British commander was as much bound in honor and justice to protect these persons, as he was to protect the British officers or soldiers; and in some respects more so, inasmuch as they had made greater sacrifices in supporting the cause of the king.—Sparks.
[1 ]Col. William R. Lee.
[2 ]Major Joseph Swasey.