Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO GOVERNOR REED. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. IX (1780-1782)
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TO GOVERNOR REED. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. IX (1780-1782) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. IX (1780-1782).
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TO GOVERNOR REED.
Head Quarters,Passaic Falls,
With respect to prisoners of War mentioned in your Excellency’s Letter of the 3d. Inst., I beg leave to observe that it has been my wish from the beginning of the contest to the present day, that no distinction should exist with respect to them; that the whole should be considered on one general and liberal scale as belonging to the States, and not to this or that State; be exchanged according to their rank and the order of their captivity—and that all military prisoners taken from the Enemy, no matter where or by whom, should be deemed as belonging to the public at large, and be applied generally for the release of those in the Enemy’s hands. This has been my wish, because it appeared to be just the only principle which could give general satisfaction. In conformity to it, all exchanges in the course of the War, resting solely with me and made by my directions, have been conducted; and it has been my constant direction, where the point depended wholly on me, that the prisoners with the Enemy were to be exchanged agreeable to it. Particular cases, however, may arise, where it may be proper to depart from the principle; but these can be but rare, and the principle, where the business was entirely with me, has never been deviated from in a single instance.
As to the case of Lt. Colo. Simcoe, and Lt. Colo. Conolly:—the former was captured by the Jersey Militia before the Resolution passed which you inclose; was confined by the State, who also made his exchange; the exchange of the latter was directly in consequence of a requisition by the State of Maryland, who claimed him to the Honble. the Board of War, who thought their claim was first. This State claimed it on the examples and practise of some other States in like cases, who had made exchanges without the interference or consulting any but their own authority.
When I received the Board’s Letter upon the subject—I informed them, (tho I directed the exchange for the reasons I have mentioned and the considerations subjoined) “that previous to their letter I had supposed that Citizens or Inhabitants captured by the Enemy were the objects to whom the Act meant a preference should be given; and that all officers in captivity were to stand upon a common footing to be released on the principle of priority of capture.” But as the terms of the Act were not entirely explicit, and the opinion of the Board was in favor of the claim, the sentiments I entertained of Lt. Colo. Ramsay’s merit and indeed the recollection of the day of his capture, his conduct upon the occasion and the whole circumstances by which he was placed in a situation that exposed him to more than a common risk of falling, or being taken, determined me not to oppose the measure. I have upon the present occasion attended minutely to the Act—and I am fully persuaded from a recurrence to some of my correspondence on the subject of it, long previous to its being passed, that my ideas of it were right, and that the construction and operation I supposed it should have, was the true one. The Draft of it I find was in my possession for consideration, so far back as the Summer ’79, as a Regulation intended for placing the business of prisoners and their exchanges upon a different footing from what it then was; and I returned it with this observation, that the Regulations appeared judicious and proper—such as I had a long time wished to see take place; adding, that it appeared to be the intention to make a distinction between prisoners and prisoners of War, which was no doubt a proper and necessary one. Under the first I meant to comprehend Citizens and Civil Characters, not usually considered or made prisoners of exchange, but whom nevertheless the Enemy were seizing and taking whenever they could, in order to release their officers in our hands. Under the last, Officers and Soldiers of the Army or Militia actually taken in Arms. It was the practise of the States to exchange the former for military prisoners and particular officers out of the order of their captivity, for officers they had taken, that excited the clamor and dissatisfaction among the officers in general, who were prisoners. I think there should be no preference under the idea of State captures, with respect to the exchanges of Military prisoners. The terms of the act seem to require it. I think it was the intention; and if it should have a different operation it does not remove, at least but in a very remote and partial degree, the causes which were complained of, and which appear evidently on examination from the introduction to have been the mischiefs intended to be remedied; but on the contrary it would sanction partial or State exchanges of officers, and only change the mode of carrying the business into execution by placing it in the hands of the Continental Commissary, instead of the Commissaries of the Individual States. And I am to observe further that the Resolution of Congress, by which I am authorized to go into exchanges now in contemplation to be carried into effect, points out and directs priority of capture as a governing principle.
I have been thus particular for your satisfaction.
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