Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO PRESIDENT REED. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VII (1778-1779)
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TO PRESIDENT REED. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VII (1778-1779) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VII (1778-1779).
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TO PRESIDENT REED.
In a line of yesterday, as I did not think it proper to detain the express and delay the notice then given, till I could prepare a more explicit answer, I only briefly acknowledged the receipt of your two letters in Council of the 24th and 25th instant, to which I should have added that of the 26th. I am now to enter into a particular consideration of their contents, and to offer such explanations as may seem necessary to satisfy any doubts, which the honorable the Council may entertain on the subjects they respectively discuss.
The first relates wholly to the trial of Major-General Arnold. It is with concern I observe, that the Council appear to have misconceived the intention of the notification contained in my letter of the 20th, and to imagine that I had taken up the matter in a different point of view from that in which it is considered by Congress and by themselves, placing them in the light of a party in the prosecution.1 I flatter myself on a revisal of my letter, and of the resolve of Congress on which it is founded, this opinion will be readily retracted. The resolve, of which the enclosed is a copy, directs me to appoint “a Court-Martial for the trial of General Arnold, on the first, second, third, and fifth articles contained in the resolves of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, and to notify them of it, with a request, that they would furnish the evidence to the court.” My letter was intended as a simple compliance with this order, and accordingly informs, that I had directed a court to be held at this camp, on the 1st of May next, for the trial of Major-General Arnold, on the 1. 2. 3 and 5th charges exhibited against him by the Council, requesting that they would be pleased to furnish the court at the appointed time with the proper evidence in support of the charges. The terms of this letter were such as, in common speaking, naturally presented themselves to express what was intended; because the charges there said to be exhibited by the Council, though in their present form they are instituted by the authority of Congress, originated in the resolves of council, of which they compose a part. But if they contain any ambiguity, or seem to imply more than those of the resolve, it is entirely to be ascribed to inadvertence and to a want of precision. It will easily be seen, that they could not be meant to convey the idea supposed, when it is recollected to be a fundamental maxim in our military trials, that the Judge-advocate prosecutes in the name and in behalf of The United States. But, as it is customary and reasonable, for those who exhibit informations, on which charges are founded, to produce or point out the witnesses necessary to support them, and enable public justice to operate; on this principle, I presume, Congress directed the notification, which has been made, and in the same spirit it was my intention to convey it. Further than this I had no idea of considering the Council as a party.
My motives for appointing the trial to take place at so short a period were these. The season is fast advancing, when we shall be under a necessity of taking the field; and as it is at most times very inconvenient (in the present state of the army impracticable) to spare a sufficient number of officers of high rank to compose a court at a distance from camp, and almost equally so to be carrying on a long and perhaps complicated trial in the midst of the operations of a campaign, it was my wish to bring it on at once, in hopes it might be concluded before they began. This was one reason, and to me a weighty one. Another was, that General Arnold had written to me in a very pressing manner, requesting the trial might commence as soon as possible. Uninformed of the particular circumstances, which might require delay, and considering it as my duty to accelerate the execution of justice, as well to the public, in case of real guilt, as to the individual, if innocent, I could have no objection to complying with his request. As the affair had been a considerable time in agitation, and I took it for granted the Council were acquainted with the order of Congress for appointing a court, I concluded the witnesses would be prepared, and that little time was necessary to collect them. The remoteness of the persons alluded to, I could not foresee. The affair of the two officers is entirely new to me; nor did it ever occur to my mind as probable, that the gentlemen, whom I conjecture to be hinted at, were intended to be summoned as witnesses on the side of the prosecution.1
I can assure the Council, with the greatest truth, that “substantial justice, not a mere formality, will undoubtedly be my object on this occasion.” I shall endeavor to act, and I wish to be considered, merely as a public executive officer, alike unbiassed by personal favor or resentment, and having no other end in view, than a faithful, ingenuous discharge of his duty. To obviate the remotest appearance of a different disposition, as well as to give the freest operation to truth, I have determined to defer the trial till the 1st of June, if it is thought the most material witnesses can be produced by that time, or till the 1st of July, if it is deemed necessary to await the arrival of the two officers from Carolina.
I am therefore to request of the Council information on this head, and that they will be pleased to point out, without delay, the persons who are to be called as witnesses in the affair. Where my authority will produce their attendance, it is my duty to exercise it; where I have no right to order, I can only request; but where any citizens of the State of Pensylvania are concerned, I doubt not the Council will employ its influence and authority to induce their appearance.
As to the officers, who may compose the Court-Martial, I trust the respectability of their characters will put their honor and impartiality out of the reach of suspicion. The expense of Witnesses, as the prosecution is in behalf of the United States, I take it for granted will be borne by them. Whether it will be possible for the Court to sit at or near Philadelphia depends upon circumstances, which cannot now be foreseen; at this time it could not by any means be done; if it can be done hereafter, without prejudice to the service, it will be very agreeable to me. The mode of conducting the trial will be strictly conformable to the orders of Congress, and to the sentiments I have now expressed; and I hope will not be thought in any degree to deviate from the respect due to the Council.
It gives me much pain to find, by your letter of the 26th that there is not a better prospect of aid from the Militia of your State in the intended Indian expedition. The drawing out the militia into service will no doubt interfere with the culture of the lands, and it were to be wished that it could be avoided. But the reduced state of our regiments, and the little apparent probability of augmenting them, will not allow me to prosecute a vigorous offensive operation to the Westward, wholly with Continental troops, without weakening the main army so much, as to put every thing to hazard this way. Influenced by considerations of this nature, I applied to your State for six hundred men; to New York for an indeterminate number, which has voted one thousand to be employed on the frontier also; and to New Jersey to replace, as far as was thought proper, the Continental troops now stationed on the coast, which will of necessity be withdrawn. If these applications have not the desired effect, bad as the consequences may be, I can only wish what I am unable to accomplish, and regret what it is not in my power to prevent.1
Notwithstanding the cautious terms in which the idea is conveyed, I beg leave to express my sensibility to the suggestion contained, not only in your letter of the 25th, but in a former one, of the —, that the frontier of Pensylvania is left unguarded and exposed, while that of some other States is covered and protected. Nor can I be less affected by the manner of the application for stationary troops, in case the proposed expedition should be laid aside; an event, which I could hardly have thought supposable. I am not conscious of the least partiality to one State, or neglect of another. If any one have cause to complain of the latter, it is Virginia, whose wide extended frontier has had no cover, but from troops more immediately beneficial to the Southwestern part of Pensylvania, which, besides this, has had its northern frontier covered by Spencer’s, Pulaski’s and Armand’s corps; its middle, by Hartley’s and some independent companies. That these troops were unequal to the task is not to be denied, nor that a greater number was sent at the close of last campaign to the western frontier of New York. But, for the first, the scantiness of our means is a sufficient reason. If the abilities and resources of the States cannot furnish a more competent force, assailable as we are on all sides, they will surely be more just than to expect from the army protection at every point. As to the last, those troops were not sent to be stationary. The repeated accounts transmitted by Congress, and received from other quarters, of the ravages actually committed, and the still greater threatened upon the western frontier of that State, occasioned so considerable a detachment, with a view to some offensive operations in the Winter. But these, through unforeseen impediments, we were obliged to lay aside. All these troops, except the garrison of fort Schuyler, are now destined for the Indian expedition, and are preparing for it.
I have been thus particular from a scrupulous desire to show, that no part of my conduct indicates a predilection to one State more than to another; but that, as far as the means in my hands will extend, I aim equally at the security and welfare of all. This is only to be obtained by vigorous exertions, and, in the present case, these must depend on the aid which the States most interested will give. I am &c.
The Council are pleased to intimate an application from Bermudas for a supply of flour. I am glad to find they do not seem disposed to comply with it—In my opinion it cannot be done without serious injury to the Service. Not only we appear to want all of that article which the Country can spare for our own use; but by withholding it from the enemy, we shall distress their privateers, which are the bane of our Commerce, not a little. This I have reason to believe from the best authority has already happened from the embargo’s which have been laid upon that article; and it would seem hardly politic to remove the difficulty. No doubt a great part of what might be furnished would be applied in this way—Besides these considerations, by withholding a supply, we throw many additional Mouths upon the enemys Magazines, and increase proportionably their distress—they will not—they cannot let their People starve. With great &c.
[1 ]To Joseph Reed, April 20th.—“I have, in obedience to a resolve of Congress, directed a court-martial to be held in this camp, on the 1st of May next, for the trial of Major-General Arnold, on the first, second, third, and fifth charges exhibited against him by the Supreme Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania. You will therefore be pleased to furnish the court, at the above time, with the proper evidence in support of the charges.”
[1 ]Clarkson and Franks, who were with the Southern army.
[1 ]“The misfortunes which have happened along the coast since withdrawing the guards are such as in our present circumstances we cannot prevent, if it is to be done by parties from the Army;—To cover a sea coast of 1500 miles from the enemy’s vessels; and our western frontiers of the same extent from Indian incursions, is impracticable; and yet I am called upon every hour to do it.—The levies designed to fill up the quotas of the respective States, are raising but slowly if at all—Some of them are ordered on remote service—while at the same time large detachments are making from the main Army to different parts. These things render it impossible to give that attention to the Coast which we could wish, and at the same moment secure the main force from defeat or insult, and protect those posts which are of the last importance to the common safety and communication. Measures must therefore be taken by the several States for their defence, or the prevention of petty inroads of the enemy, by proper guards of militia, till our situation will permit us to give them assistance from the Army.”—Washington to Major-General Putnam, 14 May, 1779.