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DISCONTENTS OF THE ARMY.
Discontents of the army at Newburg — Memorial of the officers to Con
gress — Anonymous papers circulated in the camp -- Meeting of officers called — Address of Washington — Resolutions in consequence — Letters of Washington to the president — His opinion of
the anonymous addresses and their author. The anxious fears of Washington in regard to what might take place on the approaching reduction of the army were in some degree realized. After the meeting with the French army at Verplanck's Point, he had drawn up his forces to his former encampment at Newburg, where he established his head-quarters for the winter. In the leisure and idleness of a winter camp the discontents of the army had time to ferment. The arrearages of pay became a topic of constant and angry comment, as well as the question whether the resolution of Congress, granting half pay to officers who should serve to the end of the war, would be carried into effect. Whence were the funds to arise for such half pay? The national treasury was empty; the States were slow to tax themselves; the resource of foreign loans was nearly exhausted. The articles of confederation required the concurrence of nine States to
appropriating public money. There had never been nine States in favour of the half-pay establishment; was it probable that as many would concur in applying any scanty funds that might accrue, and which would be imperiously demanded for many
other purposes, to the payment of claims known to be unpopular, and to the support of men who, the necessity for their services being at an end, might be regarded as drones in the community?
The result of these boding conferences was a memorial to Congress in December, from the officers in camp, on behalf of the army, representing the hardships of the case, and proposing that a specific sum should be granted them for the money actually due, and as a commutation for halfpay. Three officers were deputed to present the memorial to Congress, and watch over and promote its success.
The memorial gave rise to animated and long discussions in Congress. Some members were for admitting the claims as founded on engagements entered into by the nation ; others were for referring them to the respective States of the claimants. The winter passed away without
definite measures on the subject.
On the 10th of March, 1783, an anonymous paper was circulated through the camp, calling a meeting at eleven o'clock the next day, of the general and field-officers, of an officer from each company, and a delegate from the medical staff, to consider a letter just received from their representatives in Philadelphia, and what measures, if any, should be adopted to obtain that redress of grievances which they seemed to have solicited in vain.
On the following morning an anonymous address to the officers of the army was privately put into circulation. It professed to be from a fellow-soldier, who had shared in their toils and mingled in their dangers, and who till very lately had believed in the justice of his country.
“ After a pursuit of seven long years," observed he, “ 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 bloody war; it has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace 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 memorials, begged from their justice what
you could no longer expect from their favour? How have you
been answered ? Let the letter, which you are called to consider to-morrow, make reply!
If this then be your treatment while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America, what have
1783.] ANONYMOUS PAPERS.
1367 you to expect from peace, when your voice shall sink, and your strength dissipate by division; when those very swords, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of military distinction left but your wants, infirmities, and scars ? Can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this Revolution, and, retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honour? If you can, go, and carry with you the jest of tories, and the scorn of whigs; the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world! Go, starve and be forgotten! But if your spirits should revolt at this ; if you have sense enough to discover, and spirit sufficient to oppose tyranny, under whatever garb it may assume, whether it be the plain coat of republicanism, or the splendid robe of royalty; if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a cause, between men and principles ; awake, attend to your situation, and redress yourselves! If the present moment be lost, every future effort is in vain ; and your threats then will be as empty as your entreaties now.
“I would advise you, therefore, to come to some final opinion upon
what you can bear, and what you will suffer. If your determination be in any proportion to your wrongs, carry your appeal from the justice to the fears of government. Change the milk-and-water style of your last memorial. Assume a bolder tone, decent, but lively, spirited, and determined ; and suspect the man who would advise to more moderation and longer forbearance. Let two or three men, who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw up your last remonstrance, for I would no longer give it the suing, soft, unsuccessful epithet of memorial. Let it represent, in language that will neither dishonour you by its rudeness, nor betray you by its fears, what has been promised by Congress, and what has been performed; how long and how patiently you have suffered ; how little you have asked, and how much of that little has been denied. Tell them, that though you were the first, and would wish to be the last, to encounter danger, though despair itself can never drive you into dishonour, it may drive you from the field; that the wound, often irritated and never healed, may at length become incurable; and that the slightest mark of indignity from Congress now must operate like the grave, and part you for ever; that, in any political event, the army has its alternative. If peace, that nothing shall separate you from your arms but death; if war, that, courting the auspices, and inviting the direction of your illustrious leader, you will retire to some unsettled country, smile in your turn, and mock when their fear cometh on.' But let it represent, also, that should they comply with the request of your late memorial, it would make you more happy and them more respectable; that, while war should continue, you would follow their standard into the field; and when it came to an end, you would withdraw into the shade of private life, and give the world another subject of wonder and applause—an army victorious over its enemies, victorious over itself.”
This bold and eloquent, but dangerous appeal, founded as it was upon the wrongs and sufferings of a gallant army and the shameful want of sympathy in tardy legislators, called for the full exercise of Washington's characteristic firmness, caution, and discrimination. In general orders he noticed the anonymous paper, but expressed his confidence that the good sense of officers would prevent them from paying attention to such an irregular invitation, which he reprobated as disorderly. With a view to counteract its effects, he requested a like meeting of officers on the 15th instant to hear the report of the committee deputed to Congress. “ After mature deliberation,” added he,“ they will devise what further measures ought to be adopted as most rational and best calculated to obtain the just and important object in view.”
On the following day another anonymous address was circulated, written in a more moderate tone, but to the same purport with the first, and affecting to construe the general orders into an approbation of the object sought, only changing the day appointed for the meeting.
• Till now," it observed, "the commander-in-chief has regarded the steps you have taken for redress with good wishes alone ; his ostensible silence has authorised your meetings, and 1783.] WASHINGTON ADDRESSES THE ARMY. 1369 his private opinion sanctified your claims. Had he disliked the object in view, would not the same sense of duty which forbade you from meeting on the third day of the week have forbidden you from meeting on the seventh? Is not the same subject held up to your view ? and has it not passed the seal of office, and taken all the solemnity of an order ? This will give system to your proceedings, and stability to your resolves," &c. &c.
On Saturday, the 15th of March, the meeting took place. Washington had previously sent for the officers, one by one, in private, and enlarged on the loss of character to the whole
army that would result from intemperate resolutions. At the meeting General Gates was called to the chair. Washington rose and apologised for appearing there, which he had not intended to do when he issued the order directing the assemblage. The diligence, however, which had been used in circulating anonymous writings, rendered it necessary he should give his sentiments to the army on the nature and tendency of them. He had taken this opportunity to do so, and had committed his thoughts to writing, which, with the indulgence of his brother officers, he would take the liberty of reading to them.
He then proceeded to read a forcible and feeling address, pointing out the irregularity and impropriety of the recent anonymous summons, and the dangerous nature of the anonymous address-a production, as he observed, addressed more to the feelings and passions than to the judgment; drawn with great art, calculated to impress the mind with an idea of premeditated injustice in the sovereign power of the United States, and to rouse all those resentments which must unavoidably flow from such a belief.
On these principles he had opposed the irregular and hasty meeting appointed in the anonymous summons, not from a disinclination to afford officers every opportunity, consistent with their own honour and the dignity of the army, to make known their grievances. “If my conduct heretofore,” said he, “has not evinced to you that I have been a faithful friend to the army, my declaration of it at this time would be equally unavailing and improper. But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our