Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO ROBERT MORRIS AND RICHARD PETERS. 1 - The Writings of George Washington, vol. IX (1780-1782)
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TO ROBERT MORRIS AND RICHARD PETERS. 1 - 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 ROBERT MORRIS AND RICHARD PETERS.1
Head Quarters,King’s Ferry
I have devoted the first moment of my time, which I could command (while the troops are halted for the French army at this place), to give my sentiments unreservedly on the several matters contained in your favor of the 13th instant. This I will attempt to do with all that frankness and sincerity, which, from your own candor in your communications, you have a right to expect, and for doing which with the greater freedom the importance of the subject will be my apology. Persuaded that we are influenced by the same motives, and anxious in pursuit of the same object, I am only unhappy, that I should be forced to dissent in a single instance from the opinion of those, for whose judgment and ability I have the highest deference, respecting the surest and best mode for attaining that object.
But, being at the same time fully sensible of the necessity of prosecuting the war with as much vigor as our circumstances will admit, and of using the strictest economy in the prosecution of it; upon these very principles, I beg leave to give it as my opinion, that a reduction of the number of officers and men as fixed by the last arrangement, or any material alteration of the establishment of the army for the next campaign, would not in the present situation of affairs be expedient, for the following reasons.
In the first place, because the enemy must resolve to prosecute the war, or be disposed to make a peace; in either of which cases, a respectable army in the field on our part will, I conceive, more than compensate the expenses of it, and will eventually be the best and most economical system of policy we can possibly act upon. For, should the enemy still be determined to carry on the war with obstinacy, not only policy, but even necessity, would urge us to keep up a superior army, as the surest and only means of forcing them to a peace, and freeing us from the calamities and expenses of the war; as it is evident from many circumstances, that they have relied more for success on our want of exertions, than upon their own military prowess or resources, and that this has been one principal inducement of their persevering hitherto. But, on the other hand, should they be inclined to a pacification, a powerful and well appointed army would both enable us to dictate our own terms at the negotiation, and hasten the completion of it.
In addition to this, whoever considers how much more expensive and less serviceable militia are than Continental troops, how heavy and repeated a burden on the public their bounties are, when they are hired; when drafted, how disagreeable and frequently distressing for them to be torn from their families to a life with which they are totally unacquainted; how precarious and uncertain the aid is, which may be expected from them in such cases; what glorious opportunities have been lost by us, and what almost ruinous advantages have been taken by the enemy in times of our weakness, for want of a permanent force in the field,—will, I am persuaded, be convinced, that we ought to have constantly such an army as is sufficient to operate against the enemy, and supersede the necessity of calling forth the militia except on the most extraordinary occasions. I will also beg leave to remind you, Gentlemen, of the great reduction of the number of regiments on the Continental establishment, viz., from one hundred and sixteen to fifty since the year 1777, and to observe, in consequence, that, in my opinion, we do not find the enemy so much exhausted, or their strength so debilitated, as to warrant any farther diminution of our established force. By one of the late intercepted letters from Lord George Germaine, it appears the enemy considered the number of men, in their provincial corps only, greater than the whole number of men in the service of the continent. Since which time the reinforcements that have arrived from Europe amount, by the best accounts I have been able to obtain, to at least four thousand men.
That the States are able, by proper exertions, to furnish the number of men required by the last arrangement of the army, may I think rationally be supposed; as the population in many of them has rather increased than diminished since the commencement of the war; and as the greater part of them do actually, when called upon in an emergency, give a sufficient number of men for services of short duration to complete their Continental regiments. That the country abounds with supplies of all kinds is acknowledged from all quarters. Whether the men can be obtained, or the resources drawn forth, is more than I will presume with certainty to determine; but one thing is certain, that it is idle to contend against great odds, when we have it in our power to do it upon equal or even advantageous terms.
There are also several arguments, which I omit to enforce, that might be adduced particularly to prove the impropriety of reducing the number of officers, or making any considerable alteration in the system; such as our having found by experience, that the proportion of officers is not too great for the number of men; that the same or a greater proportion has been esteemed necessary in other more ancient services; and that the full complement is more indispensably requisite in ours, because there are a larger number of levies and recruits to train and discipline annually than is to be found in the regiments of other nations; and because a greater number of officers are taken from the line to perform the duties of the staff, than in most other services. It is likewise an established fact, that every alteration in the military system, or change in the arrangement, unless founded in the most obvious principles of utility, is attended with uneasiness among the officers, confusion with regard to the disposition of the men, and frequently with irregularities and disagreeable consequences before it can be carried completely into execution. Perfect order throughout the whole army has but just been restored since the last arrangement took place. Another innovation in the present situation might be more mischievous in its effects.
Thus I have, Gentlemen, from a desire of faithfully performing my duty, from the experience (of whatever degree it is) which I have acquired in the service of my country, and from the knowledge I have of the present state of the army, given my sentiments on the first of your queries, which likewise involves the answer to your second. With regard to the third, I am of opinion, that the recruits ought if possible to be engaged for the war, or three years; but, if this cannot be done, that the community, district, or class, furnishing a man for a shorter term of services, ought to be compellable to have him replaced by the period when his time of service expires; and that funds ought to be established, if practicable, for recruiting the men engaged for short services, while they continue with the army, as it is found by experience that they may be enlisted with more facility and less expense, than under any other circumstances. With respect to the fourth, fifth, and sixth queries, I am in doubt whether any alteration can be made on those subjects, which shall tend essentially, (all things considered,) to the public good. I have the honor to be, &c.”
[1 ]Mr. Morris, as superintendent of finance, and Mr. Peters, as a member of the Board of War, had been appointed commissioners by Congress to proceed to head-quarters, and consult the Commander-in-chief respecting the arrangement and numbers of the army for the ensuing year.—Journals, July 31st. They had recently been in the camp for that purpose, and had addressed a letter to General Washington containing several queries on that subject. See the letter in the Diplomatic Correspondence, vol. xi., p. 426. The basis of their scheme was a reduction of the army.