Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO PRESIDENT REED. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
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TO PRESIDENT REED. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VIII (1779-1780).
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TO PRESIDENT REED.
West Point, 22 August, 1779.
Mr. Tilghman delivered me your favor of the 8th Instant, for which, and the favorable sentiments expressed of me in your publication addressed to the printer of the Maryland Journal, you will permit me to offer my grateful acknowledgements. The loss of Fort Washington, simply abstracted from the circumstances which attended it, was an event that gave me much pain, because it deprived the army of the services of many valuable men at a critical period, and the public of many valuable lives, by the cruelties which were inflicted upon them in their captive state. But this concern received additional poignancy from two considerations, which were but little known; one of them never will be known to the world, because I shall never attempt to palliate my own foibles by exposing the error of another; nor indeed could either of them come before the public, unless there had been such a charge, as must have rendered an inquiry into the causes of this miscarriage necessary. The one was a non-compliance in General Greene with an order sent to him from White Plains, before I marched for the western side of Hudson’s River, to withdraw the artillery, stores, &c., from the Fort; allowing him, however, some latitude for the exercise of his own judgment, as he was upon the spot, and could decide better from appearances and circumstances than I, the propriety of a total evacuation.1 The other was a Resolve of Congress, in the emphatic words following;
“Friday, October 11th, 1776.—Resolved, that General Washington be desired, if it be practicable, by every art and whatever expense, to obstruct effectually the navigation of the North River, between Fort Washington and Mount Constitution, as well to prevent the regress of the enemy’s Frigates lately gone up, as to hinder them from receiving succours.”
When I came to Fort Lee, and found no measures taken for an evacuation, in consequence of the order aforementioned; when I found General Greene, of whose judgment and candor I entertained a good opinion, decidedly opposed to it; when I found other opinions coinciding with his; when the wishes of Congress to obstruct the navigation of the North River, and which were delivered in such forcible terms to me, recurred; when I knew that the easy communication between the different parts of the army, then separated by the river, depended upon it; and, lastly, when I considered that our policy led us to waste the campaign without coming to a general action on the one hand, or to suffer the enemy to overrun the country on the other, I conceived that every impediment, which stood in their way, was a mean to answer these purposes;—and when thrown into the scale of those opinions, which were opposed to an evacuation, caused that warfare in my mind, and hesitation, which ended in the loss of the garrison; and, being repugnant to my own judgment of the advisability of attempting to hold the Post, filled me with the greater regret. The two great causes, which led to this misfortune, (and which I have before recited,) as well perhaps as my reasoning upon it, which occasioned the delay, were concealed from public view, of course left the field of censure quite open for any and every laborer, who inclined to work in it; and afforded a fine theme for the pen of a malignant writer, who is always less regardful of facts than the point he wants to establish, where he has the field wholly to himself, and where concealment of a few circumstances will answer his purpose, or where a small transposition of them will give a very different complexion to the same transaction.
Why I have run into such a lengthy discussion of this point, at this time, I am at a loss myself to tell. I meant but to touch it en passant; but one idea succeeded another, till it would seem, that I had been preparing my defence for a regular charge.
My ideas of what seems to be the only mode left to keep our Battalions to their establishment, or near it, you are already acquainted with, as they were conveyed at large to the Comee. at Valley Forge in ’78. I have seen no cause since to change my opinion on this head, but abundant reason to confirm me in it. No man dislikes short and temporary enlistments more than I do. No man ever had greater cause to reprobate and even curse the fatal policy of the measure than I have; Nor, no man (with decency) ever opposed it more, in the early part of this contest; and, had my advice respecting this matter been pursued, in the years seventy five and six, our money would have been upon a very different establishment, in point of credit, to what it is at this day, as we should have saved millions of pds. in bounty money, and the consequent evils of expiring armies and new levies. But those hours are passed, never to be recalled. Such men as compose the bulk of an army are in a different train of thinking and acting to what they were in the early stages of the war; and nothing is now left for it but an annual and systematic mode of drafting, which, while we retain the stamina of an army, (engaged for the war,) will be the best. Indeed, I see no other substitute for voluntary enlistments. In fact it will come to this; for there are people enow, (old soldiers,) who will hire as substitutes, and the difference will be, that, instead of the public’s emitting or borrowing money to pay their bounties, (which is enlarged greatly every new enlistment,) these sums will be paid by individuals, will increase the demand for circulating cash, and, as with all other commodities in demand, raise the value of it by multiplying the means of its use. How far those governments, which are rent and weakened by intestine divisions, have energy enough to carry statutes of this nature into execution, I do not pretend to be a competent judge; but such as are well established and organized I am sure can do it. Those that are not, the propriety of the measure is so necessary and obvious, that I should entertain little doubt of their success in the experiment.
The sponge, which you say some gentlemen have talked of using, unless there can be a discrimination, and proper saving clauses provided, (and how far this is practicable I know not,) would be unjust and impolitic in the extreme. Perhaps I do not understand what they mean by using the sponge. If it be to sink the money in the hands of the holders of it, and at their loss, it cannot in my opinion be justified upon any principles of common policy, common sense, or common honesty. But how far a man, for instance, who has possessed himself of 20 paper dollars by means of one, or the value of one, in specie, has a just claim upon the public for more than one of the latter in redemption, and in that ratio according to the periods of depreciation, I leave to those, who are better acquainted with the nature of the subject, and have more leizure than I have, to discuss. To me a measure of this kind appears substantial justice to the public and each individual; but whether it is capable of administration, I have never thought enough of it to form any opinion. We have given the enemy another little stroke at Powles hook—an acct. of which is transmitted to Congress by this conveyance and will I presume he handed to the public—in the mean while I have the pleasure to inform you that abt. 160 prisoners and the colors of the Garrison were brought off.
I am, &c.
[1 ]Vol. V., p. 9.