Transcript courtesy of Founders Online
Newburgh 19th March 1783
About the first of this Month I wrote you along letter. I touched upon the state of the Army—the situation of public Creditors—and wished to know from you, as a friend, what causes had induced the Assembly of Virginia to withdraw their assent to the Impost Law; & how the Continental creditors without (adequate funds) were to come at, or obtain security for their money.
I little expected at the time of writing that letter, that we were on the eve of an important crisis to this Army; when the touch stone of discord was to be applied—and the virtue of its members to undergo the severest trial.
You have not been altogether unacquainted, I dare say, with the fears, the hopes, the apprehensions and the expectations of the Army relatively to the provision which is to be made for them hereafter. Altho’ a firm reliance on the integrety of Congress and a belief that the Public would finally do justice to all its Servants, and give an indisputable Security for the payment of the half-pay of the Officers had kept them amidst a variety of sufferings tolerably quiet and contented for two or three years past; Yet the total want of pay—the little prospect of receiving any from the unpromising state of the public finances—and the absolute aversion of the States to establish any Continental funds for the payment of the Debt due to the Army, did at the close of the last Campaign excite greater discontents & threaten more serious & alarming consequences than it is easy for me to describe or you to conceive.
Happily for us, the Officers of highest rank & greatest consideration interposed, and it was determined to address Congress in an humble, pathetic & explicit manner—While the Sovereign Power appeared perfectly well disposed to do justice, it was discovered the states would enable them to do nothing. And in this state of Affairs, after sometime spent on the business in Philadelphia, a Report was made by the Delegates of the Army giving a Detail of the proceedings: Before this could be fully communicated to the Troops, while the Minds of all were in a peculiar state of inquietude & irritation, an Anonymous Writer, who tho’ he did not boldly step forth and give his name to the world, sent into circulation an Address to the Officers of the Army which in point of composition, in elegance and force of expression, has rarely been equalled in the English Language, and in which the dreadful alternative was proposed of relinquishing the Service in a body in case the War continued, or retaining their Arms in case of Peace, untill Congress should comply with all their demands—At the same time siezing the Moment when the Minds were inflamed by the most pathetic representations, a General Meeting of the Officers was summoned by another anonymous production.
It is impossible to say what would have been the consequence had the Author succeeded in his first plans—But measures having been taken to postpone the meeting so as to give time for cool reflection and counteraction, the good sense of the Officers has terminated this Affair in a manner, which reflects the greatest glory on themselves and demands the highest expressions of gratitude from their Country.
The Proceedings have this day been reported to Congress, and will probably be published for the satisfaction of the good people of these United States—In the meantime I thought it necessary to give you these particulars, principally with a design to communicate to you, without reserve, my opinion on this interesting subject. For notwithstanding the storm has now passed over—notwithstanding the Officers have, in despite of their accumulated sufferings, given the most unequivocal and exalted proofs of Patriotism; Yet I believe, unless justice shall be done, and funds effectually provided for the payment of the Debt, the most deplorable and ruinous consequences may be apprehended. Justice, honor, gratitude, policy, every thing, is opposed to the conduct of driving men to despair of obtaining their just rights after serving Seven years a painful life in the Field—I say in the Field, because they have not during that period had any thing to shelter them from the inclemency of the Seasons but Tents, & such Houses as they could build for themselves.
Convinced of this, and actuated as I am, not by private & Interested motives, but by a sense of duty, a love of justice, and all the feelings of gratitude towards a body of Men who have merited infinitely well of their Country, I can never conceal, or suppress my sentiments—I cannot cease to exert all the Abilities I am possessed of to shew the evil tendency of procrastinated justice—for I will not suppose it is intended ultimately to withhold it—Nor fail to urge the Establishment of such adequate and permanent funds as will enable Congress to secure the payment of the public Debt on such principles as will preserve the National faith, give satisfaction to the Army, and tranquillity to the Public—with great esteem & regard I have the honor to be Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt & H. Ser.
P.S. The Author of the Anonymous Address is yet behind the Curtain—and as conjecture may be grounded on error—I will not announce mine, at present.
When looking at the letter, use these questions to spark analysis.
- Consider the context (if you need more background information, click here). What happened just before this letter? Why might Washington be writing to the governor of Virginia?
- Washington mentions several times that the soldiers and officers fought hard and suffered greatly. Why is that?
- Why may the states be hesitant to raise the funds to pay the soldiers? How would states get that money? Why might those methods be controversial?
- At the end of his letter, Washington writes that "the Author of the Anonymous Address is yet behind the Curtain - and as conjecture may be grounded on error - I will not announce mine, at present." Why would Washington not give away his suspicions as to who he thought the anonymous author was?
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George Washington wrote this letter to Virginia governor Benjamin Harrison on March 19, 1783 - just four days after the Newburgh Conspiracy. Washington faced a mutiny from his officers because the army had yet to be paid for their years of service. Washington managed to fend off the munity with his famous Newburgh Address, but still faced enormous pressure to pay his soldiers. So, Washington wrote to many Congressmen and state leaders (like Benjamin Harrison) to secure the funding for the army.