The Treaty of Paris of 1783, Negotiated Between the United States and Great Britain, Ended the Revolutionary War and Recognized American Independence

On 3 September 1783, the Peace of Paris was signed and the American War for Independence officially ended. The following excerpt from John Ferling’s Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence recounts the war’s final moments, when Washington bid farewell to his troops. The war was truly over. It had lasted well […]

George Washington Writes his Circular Letter to the States upon Retiring as General of the Armies

By the summer of 1783, the newly formed United States had won the War of Independence, but the survival of the nation remained far from certain. A final peace treaty with Great Britain had yet to be signed, the state governments remained hesitant to yield to Congress’ authority, and the army restlessly waited to be mustered out of service. A few months prior, several officers had threatened to mutiny due to Congress’ seeming unwillingness to provide them with adequate funds. Amidst this atmosphere of uncertainty, George Washington decided to offer his parting advice for the success of the new nation before retiring from command. He addressed his “Circular Letter to the States” to the state executives, who all received the letter by June 21. But Washington mainly intended it for the citizenry and the letter was printed and widely circulated by the press.

Washington began his letter by emphasizing the advantages the United States enjoyed as it embarked on the first experiment in republicanism of the modern era. In addition to the natural resources of the vast continent (Washington failed to mention the Native Americans who occupied this land), America stood a strong chance of survival because it came into being in the age of Enlightenment. The principles of self-government and equality would surely thrive in this golden era of philosophy, history, science, commerce, and art. “At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a Nation” he wrote, “and if their Citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be intirely [sic] their own.

Although the United States was poised for greatness, Washington warned of the consequences if America failed to live up to its promise. He described the coming years as a crucial moment of “political probation” in which the world watched attentively to see whether or not the United States would survive. “This is the moment to establish or ruin [America’s] national Character forever,” he declared. The success of the republic would demonstrate to all living under monarchies that government by the people was possible. Conversely, if the Union crumbled, the notion of self-government would be rendered a failure. In this way, Washington solemnly observed, Americans held in their hands the “destiny of unborn Millions.”

Given the importance of the present moment, Washington felt it critical that he offer his final advice to the nation before retiring. He outlined four necessities for the survival of the United States as an independent republic. First, the Union of states must remain robust and be organized under a supreme governing body to unite the states and regulate their conduct. Washington stressed that the future of the United States depended upon the strength of the Union. In particular, he emphasized the importance of demonstrating indissoluble unity to Europe, for those nations would neither lend money nor engage in peace treaties with the United States if the future of the Union seemed unsure.

Second, Washington insisted that the United States pay back the debt it had accrued during the War of Independence. Recalling the wartime reticence of some states to fulfill Congress’ requests for funds, Washington urged the states to now comply so that the new nation could avoid declaring bankruptcy. Washington similarly advocated for Congress to amply pay the soldiers, officers, and veterans of the Continental Army, declaring it their “debt of honour” to these men for their sacrifices.

Third, he advised that the militia be of a high, uniform standard throughout the nation. Since it was the primary defense of the republic, the militia of every state should be well-outfitted and regularly trained.

Finally, Washington encouraged a peaceful and affectionate relationship between all citizens of the United States, regardless of region. The Union required all people “to forget their local prejudices and policies” and be willing “to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.”

Washington closed his circular letter by reiterating the reasons he felt at liberty to offer these counsels. In particular, he argued that his own observations during the War of Independence offered him proof of the importance of the four necessities he outlined. With this final duty now complete, Washington expressed his hopes for a peaceful retreat from public life. Of course, his retirement would shortly be interrupted with the unanimous request that he serve as the United States’ first President under the new Constitution.

Washington’s Circular Letter met with mixed reactions. While most officials and legislatures praised it, some, like Edmund Randolph of Virginia, declared the letter an inappropriate overstepping of a military leader into domestic politics. Still, Americans continued to turn to its contents during critical moments. For instance, on the eve of the Constitutional Convention, Providence’s United States Chronicle reprinted the letter, reminding its readers of the timely wisdom contained within. Historians view it as an important precedent for Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796.

From George Washington to The States, 8 June 1783
(Circular)

Head Quarters Newburgh June 8-21st 1783

Sir

The great object, for which I had the honor to hold an Appointment in the service of my Country being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and to return to that domestic retirement; which it is well known I left with the greatest reluctance, a retirement for which I have never ceased to sigh through a long and painfull absence, and in which (remote from the noise and trouble of the World) I meditate to pass the remainder of life, in a state of undisturbed repose: But before I carry this resolution into effect, I think is a duty incumbent on me, to make this my last official communication, to congratulate you on the glorious events which Heaven has been pleased to produce in our favor, to offer my sentiments respecting some important subjects which appear to me to be intimately connected with the tranquility of the United States, to take my leave of your Excellency as a public Character, and to give my final blessing to that Country, in whose service I have spent the prime of my life, for whose sake I have consumed so many anxious days and watchful nights, and whose happiness, being extremely dear to me, will always constitute no inconsiderable part of my own.

Impressed with the liveliest sensibility on this pleasing occasion, I will claim the indulgence of dilating the more copiously on the subjects of our mutual felicitation—When we consider the magnitude of the prize we contended for, the doubtfull nature of the Contest, and the favorable manner in which it has terminated, we shall find the greatest possible reason for gratitude and rejoycing—This is a theme that will afford infinite delight to every benevolent & liberal Mind, whether the event in contemplation be considerd as the source of present enjoyment or the parent of future happiness; and we shall have equal occasion to felicitate ourselves, on the lot which Providence has assigned us, whether we view it in a natural, a political, or a moral point of light.

The Citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole Lords and Proprietors of a vast tract of Continent, comprehending all the various Soils and Climates of the World and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, are now, by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and Independancy—They are from this period to be considered as the Actors, on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity, here they are not only surrounded with every thing which can contribute to the completion of private and domestic enjoyment, but Heaven has crowned all its other blessings by giving a fairer opportunity for political happiness, than any other Nation has ever been favored with—Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly than a recollection of the happy conjuncture of times and circumstances under which our Republic assumed its Rank among the Nations—the foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy Age of ignorance and superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of Mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period—The researches of the human Mind after social happiness have been carried to a great extent, the treasures of knowledge acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislators, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the establishment of our forms of Government. The free cultivation of letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive Refinement of manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and, above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on Mankind and encreased the blessings of Society. At this Auspicious period the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens should not be completely free & happy, the fault will be entirely their own.

Such is our situation, and such are our prospects: but nowithstanding the Cup of blessing is thus reached out to us, notwithstanding happiness is ours if we have a disposition to seize the occasion and make it our own, yet it appears to me there is an option still left to the United States of America; that it is in their choïce and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous or contemptible and Miserable as a Nation. This is the time of their political probation: this is the moment when the eyes of the whole World are turned upon them—This is the moment to establish or ruin their National Character for ever—This is the favorable moment to give such a tone to our fœderal Government, as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution—or this may be the ill fated moment for relaxing the powers of the Union, annihilating the cement of the Confederation and exposing us to become the sport of European Politicks, which may play one State against another, to prevent their growing importance and to serve their own interested purposes; for according to the System of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present Age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved.

With this conviction of the importance of the present Crisis, silence in me would be a crime; I will therefore speak to your Excellency the language of freedom and sincerity without disguise. I am aware, however, that those who differ from me in political sentiment may perhaps remark I am stepping out of the proper line of my duty, and they may possibly ascribe to arrogance or ostentation what I know is alone the result of the purest intention; but the rectitude of my own heart, which disdains such unworthy motives; the part I have hitherto acted in life; the determination I have formed of not taking any share in public business hereafter; the ardent desire I feel and shall continue to manifest of quietly enjoying in private life, after all the toils of War, the benefits of a wise and liberal Government, will, I flatter myself, sooner or later convince my Country men that I could have no sinister views in delivering, with so little Reserve, the opinions contained in this address.

There are four things, which I humbly conceive are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say to the existence, of the United States as an independent Power.

1st An indissoluble Union of the States under one federal Head.

2ndly A sacred regard to public Justice.

3dly The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment—and

4thly The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and, in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.

These are the pillars on which the glorious fabrick of our Independancy and National Character must be supported —Liberty is the basis—and whoever would dare to sap the foundation or overturn the Structure under whatever specious pretexts he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration and the severest punishments which can be inflicted by his injured Country.

On the three first Articles I will make a few observations, leaving the last to the good sense and serious consideration of those immediately concerned.

Under the first head, altho it may not be necessary or proper for me in this place to enter into a particular disquisition of the principles of the Union and to take up the great question which has been frequently agitated, whether it be expedient and requisite for the States to delegate a larger proportion of Power to Congress or not, yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true Patriot; to assert without reserve and to insist upon the following positions—That unless the States will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives they are undoubtedly invested with by the Constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to Anarchy and confusion—that it is indispensible to the happiness of the individual States that there should be lodged somewhere, a supreme power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the confederated Republic, without which the Union cannot be of long duration—That there must be a faithfull and pointed compliance on the part of every State with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue; that whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the Sovereign Authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the Liberty and Independancy of America and the Authors of them treated accordingly; and lastly, that unless we can be enabled, by the concurrence of the States, to participate of the fruits of the Revolution, and enjoy the essential benefits of civil Society, under a form of Government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression as has been devised and adopted by the Articles of Confederation, it will be a subject of regret that so much blood and treasure have been lavished for no purpose; that so many sufferings have been encounter’d, without a compensation and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain.

Many other considerations might here be adduced to prove, that without an entire conformity to the spirit of the Union we cannot exist—as an independant Power. It will be sufficient for my purpose, to mention but one or two which seem to me of the greatest ïmportance. It is only in our United Character, as an Empire, that our Independance is acknowledged, that our power can be regarded or our Credit supported among foreign Nations—the Treaties of the European Powers with the United States of America will have no validity on a dissolution of the Union. We shall be left nearly in a State of Nature, or we may find by our own unhappy experience, that there is a natural and necessary progression from the extreme of Anarchy to the extreme of Tyranny, and that arbritary power is most easily established on the ruins of Liberty abused to Licentiousness.

As to the second Article, which respects the performance of public justice, Congress have in their late address to the United States almost exhausted the Subject, they have explained their ideas so fully and have enforced the obligations the States are under to render compleat justice to all the public Creditors, with so much dignity and energy, that in my opinion no real friend to the honour and Independancy of America, can hesitate a single moment respecting the propriety of complying with the just and honorable measures proposed—If their Arguments do not produce conviction, I know of nothing that will have greater influence, especially when we recollect that the System referred to, being the result of the collected wisdom of the Continent, must be esteemed, if not perfect, certainly the least objectionable of any that could be devised, and that if it shall not be carried into immediate execution, a National bankruptcy, with all its deplorable consequences, will take place before any different plan can possibly be proposed and adopted, so pressing are the present circumstances! and such is the alternative now offerd to the States!

The ability of the Country to discharge the debts which have been incurred in its defence, is not to be doubted, an inclination I flatter myself will not be wanting: the path of our duty is plain before us—honesty will be found on every experiment to be the best and only true policy—let us then as a Nation be just—let us fulfill the public Contracts which Congress had undoubtedly a right to make for the purpose of carrying on the War, with the same good faith we suppose ourselves bound to perform our private engagements; in the mean time let an attention to the chearfull performance of their proper business as individuals and as members of Society be earnestly inculcated on the Citizens of America—then will they strengthen the hands of Government & be happy under its protection, every one will reap the fruit of his Labours, every one will enjoy his own acquisitions without molestation and without danger.

In this state of absolute freedom and perfect security, who will grudge to yield a very little of his property to support the common interests of Society and ensure the protection of Government? who does not remember the frequent declarations at the commencement of the War that we should be completely satisfied, if at the expence of one half, we could defend the remainder of our possessions! where is the Man to be found who wishes to remain indebted for the defence of his own person and property to the exertions, the bravery and the blood of others, without making one generous effort to repay the debt of honor and of gratitude? In what part of the Continent shall we find any Man or body of Men who would not blush to stand up and propose measures purposely calculated to rob the Soldier of his Stipend and the public Creditor of his due and were it possible that such a flagrant instance of injustice could ever happen, would it not excite the general indignation and tend to bring down upon the authors of such measures the aggravated vengeance of Heaven?

If after all, a spirit of disunion or a temper of obstinacy and perverseness should manifest itself in any of the States; if such an ungracious disposition should attempt to frustrate all the happy effects that might be expected to flow from the Union; if there should be a refusal to comply with the Requisitions for funds to discharge the annual Interest of the public Debts and if that refusal should revive again all those jealousies and produce all those evils which are now happily removed, Congress, who have, in all their transactions, shewn a great degree of magnanimity and justice, will stand justified in the sight of God and Man and the State alone which puts itself in opposition to the aggregate wisdom of the Continent and follows such mistaken and pernicious councils, will be responsible for all the Consequences.

For my own part, conscious of having acted, while a servant of the public, in the manner I conceived best suited to promote the real interests of my Country, having in consequence of my fixed belief, in some measure, pledged myself to the Army that their Country would finally do them compleat and ample Justice and not wishing to conceal any instance of my official conduct from the eyes of the World, I have thought proper to transmit to your Excellency the inclosed collection of papers relative to the half-pay & commutation granted by Congress to the Officers of the Army. From these communications my decided sentiment will be clearly comprehended, together with the conclusive reasons which induced me, at an early period, to recommend the adoption of this measure in the most earnest and serious manner. As the proceedings of Congress, the Army and myself are open to all and contain in my opinion sufficient information to remove the prejudices and errors which may have been entertained by any, I think it unnecessary to say anything more, than just to observe, that the resolutions of Congress now alluded to, are undoubtedly as absolutely binding upon the United States, as the most solemn Acts of Confederation or Legislation. As to the idea which, I am informed, has in some instances prevailed, that the half pay and Commutation are to be regarded merely in the odious Light of a pension, it ought to be exploded forever—that provision should be viewed as it really was, a reasonable compensation offerd by Congress at a Time when they had nothing else to give to the Officers of the Army for services then to be performed. It was the only means to prevent a total dereliction of the Service—it was a part of their hire, I may be allowed to say, it was the price of their blood and of your Independancy—it is therefore more than a common debt, it is a debt of honor—it can never be considered as a pension or gratuity nor be cancelled untill it is fairly discharged.

With regard to a distinction between Officers and Soldiers, it is sufficient that the uniform experience of every Nation of the World combined with our own, proves the utility and propriety of the discrimination—Rewards in proportion to the Aids the Public derives from them, are unquestionably due to all its Servants—In some Lines, the Soldiers have perhaps generally had as ample a compensation for their Services, by the large bounties which have been paid them, as their Officers will receive in the proposed commutation; in others, if besides the donation of Lands, the payment of Arrearages of Cloathing and Wages (in which Articles all the component parts of the Army must be on the same footing) we take into the estimate the bounties many of the Soldiers have received and the gratuity of one years full pay which is promised to all, possibly their situation (every circumstance being duly considered) will not be deemed less eligible than that of the Officers, should a farther Reward however be judged equitable, I will venture to asert no one will enjoy greater satisfaction than myself, on seeing an exemption from Taxes for a limitted time (which has been petitioned for in some instances) or any other adequate compensation or immunity, granted to the brave defenders of their Countrys cause; but neither the adoption or rejection of this proposition, will in any manner affect, much less militate against, the Act of Congress by which they have offer’d five Years full pay in lieu of half pay for life, which had been before promised to the Officers of the Army.

Before I conclude the Subject of public justice, I cannot omit to mention the obligations this Country is under to that meritorious class of veteran non Commission’d Officers and Privates who have been discharged for inability, in consequence of the resolution of Congress of the 23d April 1782, on an annual pension for life; their peculiar sufferings, their singular merits and claims to that provision, need only be known, to interest all the feelings of humanity in their behalf; nothing but a punctual payment of their annual allowance, can rescue them from the most complicated misery, and nothing could be a more melancholy and distressing sight, than to behold those who have shed their blood or lost their limbs in the service of their Country, without a shelter, without a friend and without the means of obtaining any of the necessaries of life or comforts of life compelled to beg their daily bread from door to door! Suffer me to recommend those of this description belonging to your State to the warmest patronage of your Excellency and your Legislature.

It is necessary to say but a few words on the third topic which was proposed and which regards particularly the defence of the Republic—As there can be little doubt but Congress will Recommend a proper Peace Establishment for the United States in which a due attention will be paid to the importance of placing the Militia of the Union upon a regular and respectable footing—If this should be the case, I would beg leave to urge the great advantage of it in the strongest terms—the Militia of this Country must be considerd as the Palladium of our security and the first effectual resort, in case of hostility; It is essential therefore, that the same system should pervade the whole—that the formation & discipline of the Militia of the Continent should be absolutely uniform and the same species of Arms, Accoutrements & Military Apparatus should be introduced in every part of the United States. No one, who has not learned it from experience, can conceive the difficulty, expence & confusion which result from a contrary System, or the vague Arrangements which have hitherto prevailed.

If in treating of political points, a greater latitude than usual has been taken in the course of this address—the importance of the Crisis and the magnitude of the objects in discussion, must be my apology—It is, however, neither my wish or expectation, that the preceding observations should claim any regard, except so far as they shall appear to be dictated by a good intention, consonant to the immutable rules of Justice—calculated to produce a liberal system of Policy and founded on what ever experience may have been acquired by a long and close Attention to public business—Here I might speak with the more confidence, from my actual observations and if it would not swell this Letter (already too prolix) beyond the bounds I had prescribed myself, I could demonstrate to every mind open to conviction, that in less time & with much less expence than has been incurred, the War might have been brought to the same happy, conclusion if the resources of the Continent could have been properly drawn forth—that the distresses and disappointments, which have very often occurred, have in too many instances resulted more from a want of energy in the Continental Government, than a deficiency of means in the particular States—That the inefficacy of measures, arising from the want of an adequate authority in the supreme Power, from a partial compliance with the requisitions of Congress in some of the States and from a failure of punctuality in others, while it tended to damp the Zeal of those which where more willing to exert themselves, served also to accumulate the expences of the War and to frustrate the best concerted plans; and that the discouragement, occasioned by the complicated difficulties & embarrasments in which our affairs were by this means involved, would have long ago produced the dissolution of any Army, less patient, less virtuous and less persevering than that which I have had the honor to Command. But while I mention these things, which are notorious facts, as the defects of our Federal Constitution, particularly in the prosecution of a War, I beg it may be understood, that as I have ever taken a pleasure in gratefully acknowledging the assistance and support I have derived from every class of Citizens, so shall I always be happy to do justice to the unparralled exertions of the individual States on many interesting occasions.

I have thus freely disclosed, what I wished to make known, before I surrendered up my Public trust to those who committed it to me—the task is now accomplished—I now bid adieu to your Excellency, as the Chief Magistrate of your State at the same time I bid a last farewell to the cares of Office and all the employments of public life.

It remains then to be my final and only request, that your Excellency will communicate these sentiments to your legislature at their next meeting and that they may be considered as the Legacy of one who has ardently wished on all occasions to be usefull to his Country and who even in the shade of Retirement will not fail to implore the divine benediction upon it.

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination & obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field—and finally that he would most graciously be pleas’d to dispose us all to do Justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves, with that Charity, humility & pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion & without an humble immitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation. With the greatest regard and esteem, I have the honor to be Sir Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and most humble Servant

Go: Washington

Sources:

George Washington to Officers: “the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter”

George Washington to the General, Field, & other Officers Assembled at the New Building pursuant to the General Order of the 11th Instant March.

Head Quarters Newburgh 15th of March 1783

Gentlemen,

By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together—how inconsistent with the rules of propriety! how unmilitary! and how subversive of all order and discipline—let the good sense of the Army decide.

In the moment of this summons, another anonymous production was sent into circulation; addressed more to the feelings & passions, than to the reason & judgment of the Army. The Author of the piece, is entitled to much credit for the goodness of his Pen: and I could wish he had as much credit for the rectitude of his Heart—for, as Men see thro’ different Optics, and are induced by the reflecting faculties of the Mind, to use different means to attain the same end; the Author of the Address, should have had more charity, than to mark for Suspicion, the Man who should recommend Moderation and longer forbearance—or, in other words, who should not think as he thinks, and act as he advises. But he had another plan in view, in which candor and liberality of Sentiment, regard to justice, and love of Country, have no part; and he was right, to insinuate the darkest suspicion, to effect the blackest designs.

That the Address is drawn with great art, and is designed to answer the most insidious purposes. That it is calculated to impress the Mind, with an idea of premeditated injustice in the Sovereign power of the United States, and rouse all those resentments which must unavoidably flow from such a belief. That the secret Mover of this Scheme (whoever he may be) intended to take advantage of the passions, while they were warmed by the recollection of past distresses, without giving time for cool, deliberative thinking, & that composure of Mind which is so necessary to give dignity & stability to measures, is rendered too obvious, by the mode of conducting the business, to need other proof than a reference to the proceeding.

Thus much, Gentlemen, I have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you, to shew upon what principles I opposed the irregular and hasty meeting which was proposed to have been held on Tuesday last: and not because I wanted a disposition to give you every opportunity, consistent with your own honor, and the dignity of the Army, to make known your grievances. If my conduct heretofore, has not evinced to you, that I have been a faithful friend to the Army; my declaration of it at this time wd be equally unavailing & improper—But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common Country—As I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you, on public duty—As I have been the constant companion & witness of your Distresses, and not among the last to feel, & acknowledge your Merits—As I have ever considered my own Military reputation as inseperably connected with that of the Army—As my Heart has ever expanded wth joy, when I have heard its praises—and my indignation has arisen, when the Mouth of detraction has been opened against it—it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the War, that I am indifferent to its interests.

But—how are they to be promoted? The way is plain, says the anonymous Addresser—If War continues, remove into the unsettled Country—there establish yourselves, and leave an ungrateful Country to defend itself—But who are they to defend? Our Wives, our Children, our Farms and other property which we leave behind us. or—in this state of hostile seperation, are we to take the two first (the latter cannot be removed) to perish in a Wilderness, with hunger cold & nakedness? If Peace takes place, never sheath your Sword says he untill you have obtained full and ample Justice—this dreadful alternative, of either deserting our Country in the extremest hour of her distress, or turning our Army against it, (which is the apparent object, unless Congress can be compelled into an instant compliance) has something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea. My God! What can this Writer have in view, by recommending such measures? Can he be a friend to the Army? Can he be a friend to this Country? Rather, is he not an insidious Foe? Some Emissary, perhaps, from New York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord & seperation between the Civil & Military powers of the Continent? And what a Compliment does he pay to our understandings, when he recommends measures in either alternative, impracticable in their nature?

But here, Gentlemen, I will drop the curtain; because it wd be as imprudent in me to assign my reasons for this opinion, as it would be insulting to your conception, to suppose you stood in need of them. A moments reflection will convince every dispassionate Mind of the physical impossibility of carrying either proposal into execution.

There might, Gentlemen, be an impropriety in my taking notice, in this Address to you, of an anonymous production—but the manner in which that performance has been introduced to the Army—the effect it was intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply justify my observations on the tendency of that Writing. With respect to the advice given by the Author—to suspect the Man, who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance—I spurn it—as every Man, who regards that liberty, & reveres that Justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must—for if Men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind; reason is of no use to us—the freedom of Speech may be taken away—and, dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.

I cannot, in justice to my own belief, & what I have great reason to conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this Address, without giving it as my decided opinion; that that Honble Body, entertain exalted sentiments of the Services of the Army; and, from a full conviction of its Merits & sufferings, will do it compleat Justice: That their endeavors, to discover & establish funds for this purpose, have been unwearied, and will not cease, till they have succeeded, I have not a doubt. But, like all other large Bodies, where there is a variety of different Interests to reconcile, their deliberations are slow. Why then should we distrust them? and, in consequence of that distrust, adopt measures, which may cast a shade over that glory which, has been so justly acquired; and tarnish the reputation of an Army which is celebrated thro’ all Europe, for its fortitude and Patriotism? and for what is this done? to bring the object we seek for nearer? No! most certainly, in my opinion, it will cast it at a greater distance.

For myself (and I take no merit in giving the assurance, being induced to it from principles of gratitude, veracity & justice)—a grateful sence of the confidence you have ever placed in me—a recollection of the Chearful assistance, & prompt obedience I have experienced from you, under every vicisitude of Fortune, and the sincere affection I feel for an Army, I have so long had the honor to Command, will oblige me to declare, in this public & solemn manner, that, in the attainment of compleat justice for all your toils & dangers, and in the gratification of every wish, so far as may be done consistently with the great duty I owe my Country, and those powers we are bound to respect, you may freely command my services to the utmost of my abilities.

While I give you these assurances, and pledge my self in the most unequivocal manner, to exert whatever ability I am possesed of, in your favor—let me entreat you, Gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, & sully the glory you have hitherto maintained—let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your Country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress; that, previous to your dissolution as an Army they will cause all your Accts to be fairly liquidated, as directed in their resolutions, which were published to you two days ago—and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power, to render ample justice to you, for your faithful and meritorious Services. And let me conjure you, in the name of our common Country–as you value your own sacred honor—as you respect the rights of humanity, & as you regard the Military & national character of America, to express your utmost horror & detestation of the Man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our Country, & who wickedly attempts to open the flood Gates of Civil discord, & deluge our rising Empire in Blood.

By thus determining–& thus acting, you will pursue the plain & direct Road to the attainment of your wishes. You will defeat the insidious designs of our Enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret Artifice. You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism & patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; And you will, by the dignity of your Conduct, afford occasion for Posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to man kind, “had this day been wanting, the World had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.”

Go: Washington

Source: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-10840

The Newburgh Conspiracy and George Washington’s Powerful Speech to Calm It

One of the early threats to the republic came in March 1783, when a group of officers in the Continental Army decided to challenge the authority of the Congress. The incident was caused by the inability of Congress to pay the members of the military.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the Congress could not tax the states to raise revenue. Instead, it relied on voluntary payments from the states, which were made on an irregular basis. In 1780, Congress passed a resolution to provide half-pay for retired soldiers. In late 1782, Congress was still waiting for the money.

With the end of the Revolutionary War in sight, high-ranking members of the Army began to fear that if the Army disbanded the soldiers would never receive their pay. A faction, which included Horatio Gates, developed that accused Congress of trampling on the rights which the soldiers were told — and believed — they were fighting for.   In March 1783, a letter circulated the Army’s encampment at Newburgh, New York. The letter stated their concerns and called for a meeting to be held on March 11.

“After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out is at length brought within our reach! — Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours, was active once — it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war! It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace again returns to bless — whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services; a country courting your return to private life, with tears of gratitude, and smiles of admiration; longing to divide with you that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved? Is this the case? Or is it rather, a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses? Have you not, more than once, suggested your wishes, and made known your wants to Congress? Wants and wishes which gratitude and policy should have anticipated, rather than evaded. And have you not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorial, begged from their justice, what you would no longer expect from their favour? How have you been answered? Let the letter which you are called to consider to-morrow, make reply.”

On March 11, General Washington’s General Orders to the Army for the day read as follows:

“The Commander in Chief having heard that a General meeting of the officers of the Army was proposed to be held this day at the Newbuilding in an anominous paper which was circulated yesterday by some unknown person conceives (altho he is fully persuaded that the good sense of the officers would induce them to pay very little attention to such an irregular invitation) his duty as well as the reputation and true interest of the Army requires his disapprobation of such disorderly proceedings, at the same time he requests the General and Field officers with one officer from each company and a proper representative of the staff of the Army will assemble at 12 o’clock on Saturday next at the Newbuilding to hear the report of the Committee of the Army to Congress.

After mature deliberation they will devise what further measures ought to be adopted as most rational and best calculated to attain the just and important object in view. The senior officer in Rank present will be pleased to preside and report the result of the Deliberations to the Commander in Chief.”

These orders pushed the meeting to March 15, buying Washington time to notify Congress of the development. The orders also gave the impression Washington would not attend the meeting. Washington used the time to prepare remarks, which he intended to deliver, in person, to the conspirators.

General Horatio Gates

General Horatio Gates opened the meeting on the morning of March 15. In Washington’s absence, he was the ranking officer, and in charge of the proceedings. Within moments, Washington entered the room, to everyone’s surprise. He asked to speak to the assembly. Gates granted permission, and Washington proceeded to deliver one of  — if not the most — crucial speeches of his career.

He began by scolding the author of the letter (and a follow-up letter), and its supporters, “By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together? How inconsistent with the rules of propriety! — how unmilitary! — and how subversive of all order and discipline, let the good sense of the army decide.”

He made his astonishment at such a proposal clear, saying, “My God! What can this writer have in view, by recommending such measures? ? Can he be a friend to the army? — Can he be a friend to this country? — Rather is he not an insidious foe? — Some emissary, perhaps, from New York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord & seperation between the civil & military powers of the continent? — And what compliment does he pay to our understandings, when he recommends measures in either alternative, impracticable in their nature?”

Further, he clarified his own stance, saying “With respect to the advice given by the author to suspect the man, who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance. I spurn it as every man, who regards that liberty, & reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must.”

He asked the men in the room to trust his judgement, and to trust that Congress would come through for them, saying “While I give you these assurances, and pledge my self in the most unequivocal manner, to exert whatever ability I am possessed of, in your favor let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, & sully the glory you have hitherto maintained let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress.”

Finally, he called on them to put aside further thoughts of conspiracy and action towards the Congress, asking them to “pursue the plain & direct road to the attainment of your wishes. You will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism & patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; — And you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind, had this day been wanting, the world has never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.”

Then, he proceeded to read a letter to the room, which he had received from Joseph Jones, a Congressman from Virginia. In order to read the letter, Washington was forced to put on his new reading glasses. He told the men, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

As he read the letter, some men in the room began to openly cry. Major Samuel Shaw remembered the moment in his journal, where he wrote, “There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.”

When he finished reading the letter, he folded it up, took off his glasses and left the room. General Henry Knox and others who were faithful to Washington offered resolutions confirming their support for the General and the Congress.

The conspiracy to revolt against the Congress was quelled right then and there, as the officers voted against the measures. Instead, they asked Washington to negotiate with Congress on their behalf.

Documents — such as the letters that circulated the camp — were collected by the Army and preserved.

According to later accounts, many of the soldiers who heard the speech were moved to tears. As one veteran of the war recalled, “I have ever considered that the United States are indebted for their republican form of government solely to the firm and determined republicanism of George Washington at this time.”

The Continental Congress in Philadelphia was shocked when they received news of the averted rebellion. Alexander Hamilton immediately sprang into action, proposing a five-year commutation of the soldiers’ pensions that Congress immediately approved. The Newburgh Conspiracy would not be the last crisis over soldiers’ pay that will shake the nation, however. The Continental Congress’ inability to raise revenue and pay soldiers would later prompt the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 and Shays’ Rebellion of 1786, demonstrating the urgency of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Still, the Newburgh Address reminded the soldiers and the nation that liberty does not come cheap – it is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is preserved through the patience, sacrifice, and conscience, of those we trust with power.

Resources:

Source: https://www.americanhistorycentral.com/the-newburgh-conspiracy-march-15-1783/