Posted by: Democratic Thinker | January 7, 2010

Newburgh Crisis: III—Continental Army Petitions Congress

Washington Secures the Republic

Following the Battle of Yorktown, the Continental Army encamped at Newburgh, New York. Under-provisioned, unpaid, and in dire straits, the soldier tried various courses of action to obtain the funding promised them by the states and the Continental Congress. Some of their plans were as desperate as their situation, and threatened to destroy the republic.

At this period of the war it is with peculiar pain we find ourselves constrained to address your august body, on matters of a pecuniary nature.

To the United States in Congress Assembled.
The Address and Petition of the Officers of the Army of the United States.

Humbly sheweth—

THAT we, the officers of the army of the United States, in behalf of ourselves and our brethren the soldiers, beg leave, with all proper deference and respect, freely to state to congress, the supreme power of the United States, the great distress under which we labor.

At this period of the war it is with peculiar pain we find ourselves constrained to address your august body, on matters of a pecuniary nature. We have struggled with our difficulties year after year, under the hopes that each would be the last; but we have been disappointed. We find our embarrassments thicken so fast, and have become so complex, that many of us are unable to go further. In this exigence we apply to congress for relief, as our head and sovereign.

To prove that our hardships are exceedingly disproportionate to those of any other citizens of America, let a recurrence be had to the paymaster’s accounts, for four years past. If to this it should be objected, that the respective states have made settlements and given securities for the pay due, for part of that time, let the present value of those nominal obligations be ascertained by the monied men, and they will be found to be worth little indeed; and yet, trifling as they are, many have been under the sad necessity of parting with them, to prevent their families from actually starving.

We complain that shadows have been offered to us, while the substance has been gleaned by others.

Our situation compels us to search for the cause of our extreme poverty. The citizens murmur at the greatness of their taxes, and are astonished that no part reaches the army. The numerous demands, which are between the first collectors and the soldiers, swallow up the whole.

Our distresses are now brought to a point. We have borne all that men can bear—our property is expended—our private resources are at an end—and our friends are wearied out and disgusted with our incessant applications. We therefore most seriously and earnestly beg, that a supply of money may be forwarded to the army, as soon as possible. The uneasiness of the soldiers, for want of pay, is great and dangerous; any further experiment on their patience, may have fatal effects.

The promised subsistence or ration of provisions, consisted of certain articles specified in kind and quality. This ration, without regard, that we can conceive, to the health of the troops, has been frequently altered, as necessity or conveniency suggested,—generally losing by the change some part of its substance. On an average, not more than seven or eight, tenths have been issued; the retained parts were, for a short time, paid for; but the business became troublesome to those who were to execute it. For this, or some other reasons, all regard to the dues, as they respected the soldiers, has been discontinued (now and then a trifling gratuity excepted.) As these dues respected the officers, they were compensated during one year and part of another, by an extra ration; as to the retained rations, the account for several years remains unsettled; there is a large balance due upon it, and a considerable sum for that of forage.

The clothing was another part of the soldier’s hire. The arrearages on that score, for the year 1777, were paid off in continental money, when the dollar was worth about four pence; the arrearages for the following years, are unliquidated, and we apprehend scarcely thought of, but by the army. Whenever there has been a real want of means, and defect in system, or neglect in execution, in the departments of the army, we have invariably been the sufferers, by hunger and nakedness, and by languishing in an hospital.

We beg leave to urge an immediate adjustment of all dues; that, as great a part as possible, be paid, and the remainder put on such a footing as will restore cheerfulness to the army, receive confidence in the justice and, generosity of its constituents, and contribute to the very desirable effect of re-establishing public credit.

We are grieved to find, that our brethren, who retired from service on half pay, under the resolution of congress in 1780, are not only destitute of any effectual provision, but are become the objects of obloquy. Their condition has a very discouraging aspect on us, who must sooner or later retire, and from every consideration of justice, gratitude and policy, demands attention and redress.

We regard the act of congress respecting half pay, as an honorable and just recompence for several years hard service, in which the health and fortunes of the officers have been worn down and exhausted. We see with chagrin the odious point of view, in which the citizens of too many of the states endeavor to place the men entitled to it. We hope, for the honor of human nature, that there are none so hardened in the sin of ingratitude, as to deny the justice of the reward. We have reason to believe, that the objection generally is against the mode only. To prevent therefore any altercations and distinctions, which may tend to injure that harmony which we ardently desire may reign throughout the community, we are willing to commute the half pay pledged, for full pay, for a certain number of years, or for a sum in gross, as shall be agreed to by the committee sent with this address. And in this we pray, that the disabled officers and soldiers, with the widows and orphans of those, who have expended, or may expend, their lives in the service of their country, may be fully comprehended. We also beg, that some mode may be pointed out for the eventual payment of those soldiers, who are the subjects of the resolution of congress of the 15th May, 1778.

To the representation now made, the army have not a doubt that congress will pay all that attention, which the serious nature of it requires. It would be criminal in the officers to conceal the general dissatisfaction which prevails, and is gaining ground in the army, from the pressure of evils and injuries, which, in the course of seven long years, have made their condition, in many instances, wretched. They therefore entreat, that congress, to convince the army and the world, that the independence of America shall not be placed on the ruin of any particular class of her citizens, will point out a mode of immediate redress.

H. Knox, major-general, } on the part of the Massachusetts line.
John Patterson, brigadier-general,
J. Greaton, colonel,
John Crane, colonel,
H. Maxwell, lieutenant-colonel,
J. Huntington, brigadier-general, } on the part of the Connecticut line.
H. Swift, colonel,
Samuel B. Webb, colonel,
Eben. Huntington, lieutenant-colonel,
P. Cortlandt, colonel, } on the part of the New-York line.
John N. Cummings, lieutenant-colonel } on the part of the New-Jersey line.
William Scott, major, } on the part of the New-Hampshire line.
W. Eustis, hospital-surgeon , } on the part of the general hospital.

MOSES HAZEN, brigadier-general.

Cantonments, Hudson’s River, December, 1782.