Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JOSEPH JONES. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
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TO JOSEPH JONES. - 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 JOSEPH JONES.
The subject of this letter will be confined to a single point. I shall make it as short as possible, and write it with frankness. If any sentiment therefore is delivered, which might be displeasing to you as a member of Congress, ascribe it to the freedom which is taken with you by a friend, who has nothing in view but the public good.
In your letter without date, but which came to hand yesterday, an idea is held up, as if the acceptance of General Greene’s resignation of the quartermaster’s department was not all that Congress meant to do with him.1 If by this it is in contemplation to suspend him from his command in the line, of which he made an express reservation at the time of entering on the other duty, and it is not already enacted, let me beseech you to consider well what you are about before you resolve. I shall neither condemn nor acquit General Greene’s conduct for the act of resignation, because all the antecedent correspondence is necessary to form a right judgment of the matter; and possibly, if the affair is ever brought before the public, you may find him treading on better ground than you seem to imagine; but this by the by. My sole aim at present is to advertise you of what I think would be the consequences of suspending him from his command in the line (a matter distinct from the other) without a proper trial. A procedure of this kind must touch the feelings of every officer. It will show in a conspicuous point of view the uncertain tenure by which they hold their commissions. In a word, it will exhibit such a specimen of power, that I question much if there is an officer in the whole line, that will hold a commission beyond the end of the campaign, if he does till then. Such an act in the most despotic government would be attended at least with loud complaints.
It does not require with you, I am sure, at this time of day, arguments to prove, that there is no set of men in the United States, considered as a body, that have made the same sacrifices of their interest in support of the common cause, as the officers of the American army; that nothing but a love of their country, of honor, and a desire of seeing their labors crowned with success, could possibly induce them to continue one moment in service; that no officer can live upon his pay; that hundreds, having spent their little all in addition to their scanty public allowance, have resigned, because they could no longer support themselves as officers; that numbers are at this moment rendered unfit for duty for want of clothing, while the rest are wasting their property, and some of them verging fast to the gulf of poverty and distress.
Can it be supposed, that men under these circumstances, who can derive at best, if the contest ends happily, only the advantages which accrue in equal proportion to others, will sit patient under such a precedent? Surely they will not; for the measure, not the man, will be the subject of consideration, and each will ask himself this question: if Congress by its mere fiat, without inquiry and without trial, will suspend an officer to-day, and an officer of such high rank, may it not be my turn to-morrow, and ought I to put it in the power of any man or body of men to sport with my commission and character, and lay me under the necessity of tamely acquiescing, or, by an appeal to the public, exposing matters, which must be injurious to its interests? The suspension of Generals Schuyler and St. Clair, though it was preceded by the loss of Ticonderoga, which contributed not a little for the moment to excite prejudices against them, was by no means viewed with a satisfactory eye by many discerning men, though it was in a manner supported by the public clamor; and the one in contemplation I am almost certain will be generally reprobated by the army.
Suffer not, my friend, if it is within the compass of your abilities to prevent it, so disagreeable an event to take place. I do not mean to justify, to countenance, or excuse, in the most distant degree, any expressions of disrespect, which the gentleman in question, if he has used any, may have offered to Congress; no more than I do any unreasonable matters he may have required respecting the quartermaster-general’s department; but, as I have already observed, my letter is to prevent this suspension, because I fear, because I feel, that it must lead to very disagreeable and injurious consequences. General Greene has his numerous friends out of the army as well as in it; and, from his character and consideration in the world, he might not, when he felt himself wounded in so summary a way, withhold himself from a discussion, that could not at best promote the public cause. As a military officer he stands very fair, and very deservedly so, in the opinion of all his acquaintances. These sentiments are the result of my own reflections, and I hasten to inform you of them. I do not know that General Greene has ever heard of the matter, and I hope he never may; nor am I acquainted with the opinion of a single officer in the whole army upon the subject, nor will any tone be given by me. It is my wish to prevent the proceeding; for, sure I am, that it cannot be brought to a happy issue, if it takes place. I am, &c.1
[1 ]Mr. Jones had written from Congress: “We have been greatly perplexed the last week with General Greene’s refusal to act in the office of quartermaster-general, unless the new system was totally repealed, and he was allowed to conduct it under your direction in such a manner as he should think most conducive to the public service. If General Greene thought the new system wanted amendment, and had pointed out the defect, Congress would have considered the matter, and I doubt not would have made the necessary alteration. But the manner of these demands, made in such peremptory terms at the moment of action, when the campaign was opened, the enemy in the field, and our ally waiting for coöperation, has lessened General Greene, not only in the opinion of Congress, but I think of the public; and I question whether it will terminate with the acceptance of his refusal only.
[1 ]“As you are retiring from the office of quartermaster-general, and have requested my sense of your conduct and services while you acted in it, I shall give it to you with the greatest cheerfulness and pleasure. You have conducted the various duties of it with capacity and diligence, entirely to my satisfaction, and, as far as I have had an opportunity of knowing, with the strictest integrity. When you were prevailed on to undertake the office, in March, 1778, it was in great disorder and confusion, and by extraordinary exertions you so arranged it, as to enable the army to take the field the moment it was necessary, and to move with rapidity after the enemy when they left Philadelphia. From that period to the present time, your exertions have been equally great. They have appeared to me to be the result of a system, and to have been well calculated to promote the interest and honor of your country. In fine, I cannot but add, that the States have had in you, in my opinion, an able, upright, and diligent servant.”—Washington to Major-General Greene, 15 August, 1780.