Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. X (1782-1785)
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. X (1782-1785) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. X (1782-1785).
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
To say nothing of the invisible workings of Providence, which has conducted us through difficulties where no human foresight could point the way; it will appear evident to a close examiner, that there has been a concatenation of causes to produce this event; which in all probability, at no time, or under any other circumstances, will combine again—We deceive ourselves therefore by the mode of reasoning, and, what would be much worse, we may bring ruin upon ourselves by attempting to carry it into practice.
Head-Quarters, 18 April, 1783.
We are known by no other character among nations than as the United States—Massachusetts or Virginia is no better defined, nor any more thought of by Foreign Powers than the County of Worcester in Massachusetts is by Virginia, or Gloucester County in Virginia is by Massachusetts, (respectable as they are); and yet these counties with as much propriety might oppose themselves to the Laws of the State in which they are, as an Individual State can oppose itself to the Federal Government, by which it is, or ought to be bound. Each of these counties has, no doubt, its local polity and Interests. These should be attended to, and brought before their respective legislatures with all the force their importance merits; but when they come in contact with the general Interest of the State, when superior considerations preponderate in favor of the whole, their voices should be heard no more. So should it be with individual States when compared to the Union, otherwise I think it may properly be asked for what purpose do we farcically pretend to be United? Why do Congress spend months together in deliberating upon, debating, and digesting plans, which are made as palatable, and as wholesome to the Constitution of this country as the nature of things will admit of, when some States will pay no attention to them, and others regard them but partially; by which means all those evils which proceed from delay, are felt by the whole; while the compliant States are not only suffering by these neglects, but in many instances are injured most capitally by their own exertions; which are wasted for want of the united effort. A hundred thousand men, coming one after another, cannot move a Ton weight; but the united strength of 50 would transport it with ease. So has it been with great part of the expence which has been incurred this War. In a word, I think the blood and treasure, which has been spent in it, has been lavished to little purpose, unless we can be better cemented; and that is not to be effected while so little attention is paid to the recommendations of the Sovereign Power.
I find it a duty incumbent on me to communicate to your Excellency the present disposition and temper of part of the army. The accounts of peace, which have been received at different times, have raised an expectation in the minds of the men engaged for the war, that a speedy discharge must be the consequence. This idea has been so deeply impressed, that it has become difficult to hold them under that sense of discipline, which is necessary to bind together the subjects of an army. The slow and dillatory manner, in which the intelligence of peace has arrived to us, has served to heighten this idea, and has led those men to some suspicion, that official despatches and official declarations of peace have been postponed through design, that they might be held beyond the term of their engagements; by which means they have in some instances scarcely been restrained from acts of excess. To such a composition of men as the army is formed of, this idea is perhaps not an unnatural one.
To me it would seem not more absurd, to hear a traveller, who was setting out on a long journey, declare he would take no money in his pocket to defray the Expences of it, but rather depend upon Chance and Charity, lest he should misapply it—than are the expressions of so much fear of the powers and means of Congress.
In this situation the proclamation of Congress for a cessation of hostilities found us on its arrival yesterday. This act, being unaccompanied with any instructions for my conduct respecting the discharge of this part of the army if it should be found necessary, or any intimations of Congress on that head, has thrown me into a most disagreeable circumstance. Knowing the temper of the war-men, to suppress the publication of this proclamation would increase their suspicions; and knowing their expectations, to publish it to men, who have not learnt to distinguish between a proclamation for a cessation of hostilities and a definite declaration of peace, when they have authentic information that peace has actually taken place, would serve to increase their expectations of immediate discharge, and stamp any claim to their further services with an appearance of injustice. Under this dilemma, and being totally ignorant of the designs of the enemy in New York, who, from all I can collect, are making no show of an early evacuation of that city, I found it difficult to decide on the line of my duty. I therefore called a full consultation of the general officers of this army on the occasion. It was their unanimous judgment, that it would be equally impracticable and impolitic to attempt to suppress the proclamation, and that it should be issued in this day’s orders. At the same time, the general officers are deeply impressed with an idea of the little remaining hold, which, after this publication, we may expect to have upon the men engaged for the war, and of the necessity there is, that Congress should come to some speedy determination upon this interesting point, as to what is to be the period of these men’s service, and that they should give the earliest communication to me of their decision for my instruction.
For Heaven’s sake, who are Congress? are they not the creatures of the People, amenable to them for their conduct, and dependent from day to day on their breath? Where then can be the danger of giving them such Powers as are adequate to the great ends of Government, and to all the general purposes of the Confederation (I repeat the word general, because I am no advocate for their having to do with the particular policy of any state, further than it concerns the Union at large)? What may be the consequences if they have not these Powers, I am at no loss to guess; and deprecate the worst; for sure I am, we shall, in a little time become as contemptible in the great scale of Politicks, as we now have it in our power to be respectable. And that, when the band of Union gets once broken, every thing ruinous to our future prospects is to be apprehended. The best that can come of it, in my humble opinion is, that we shall sink into obscurity, unless our Civil broils should keep us in remembrance and fill the page of history with the direful consequences of them.
Towards effecting this important object, it has been seriously motioned to me, that I should hint to Congress the propriety and expediency of their appointing a committee of their own body, with plenary powers, who may immediately repair to camp, and who may decide on the necessary arrangements for this important period. For my own part, I am fully in sentiment with this opinion, as such a measure would not only tend to help over the difficulty of the moment, but would expedite the execution of many other arrangements, which will be found necessarily, preparatory to our disbanding the present army. It might also serve to facilitate any negotiations, which it may be found expedient to enter into with Sir Guy Carleton, for his speedy evacuation of New York, an object which at present seems at too great a distance for our circumstances. Many other matters will undoubtedly present themselves which we cannot foresee, and which will require frequent references to Congress; and, as much time is lost in communications between the army and the sovereign body, a committee on the spot, who might give an immediate decision, would be of great importance, and perhaps suppress many disagreeable consequences which might arise merely from delay. One circumstance has already occurred, as Congress will perceive by the enclosed petition from the troops of the New Jersey line; another I have this day heard of in the Connecticut line, extending to a claim of half-pay or commutation for the non-commissioned officers of that line. How far their ideas, if not suppressed by some lucky expedient, may proceed, it is beyond my power to divine.
You say that, Congress loose time by pressing a mode that does not accord with the genius of the People, and will thereby, endanger the Union, and that it is the quantum they want. Permit me to ask if the quantum has not already been demanded? Whether it has been obtained? and whence proceeds the accumulated evils, and poignant distresses of many of the public Creditors—particularly in the Army? For my own part I hesitate not a moment to confess, that I see nothing wherein the Union is endangered by the late requisition of that body, but a prospect of much good, justice, and prosperity from the compliance with it. I know of no tax more convenient, none so agreeable, as that which every man may pay,—or let it alone, as his convenience, abilities, or Inclination shall prompt. I am therefore a warm friend to the impost.
Notwithstanding the length of this letter, I must beg the liberty to suggest to Congress an idea, which has been hinted to me, and which has affected my mind very forcibly. That is, that, at the discharge of the men engaged for the war, Congress should suffer those men, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, to take with them as their own property, and as a gratuity, the arms and accoutrements they now hold. This act would raise pleasing sensations in the minds of those worthy and faithful men, who, from their early engaging in the war at moderate bounties, and from their patient continuance under innumerable distresses, have not only deserved nobly of their country, but have obtained an honorable distinction over those, who, with shorter times, have gained large pecuniary rewards. This act, at a comparative small expense, would be deemed an honorable testimonial from Congress of the regard they bear to those distinguished worthies, and the sense they have had of their suffering virtues and services, which have been so happily instrumental towards the security and establishment of the rights, liberties, and independence of this rising empire. These constant companions of their toils and dangers, preserved with sacred care, would be handed down from the present possessors to their children, as honorable badges of bravery and military merit; and would probably be brought forth, on some future occasion, with pride and exultation, to be improved with the same military ardor and emulation in the hands of posterity, as they have been used by their forefathers in the present establishment and foundation of our national independence and glory.1
I can only repeat to you, that whenever Congress shall think proper to open the door of their Archives to you (which can be best known, and with more propriety discovered through the Delegates of your own State), all my Records and Papers shall be unfolded to your View, and I shall be happy in your Company at Mt. Vernon while you are taking such Extracts from them, as you may find convenient. It is a piece of respect which I think is due to the Sovereign Power to let it take the lead in this business (without any interference of mine); and another reason why I choose to withhold mine to this epoch is, that I am positive no history of the Revolution can be perfect if the Historiographer has not free access to that fund of Information. Mrs. Washington joins me in compliments to Mrs. Gordon—and I am &c.
Congress will suffer me to repeat my most earnest wish, that they will be pleased, either by themselves at large, or by their committee, to pay their earliest attention to the matters now referred to their consideration; for I must add, that, unless the most speedy arrangements for the war men are adopted, I contemplate with anxiety the disagreeable consequences, which, I fear, will be the result of much longer delay.