Posted by: Democratic Thinker | January 7, 2010

Newburgh Crisis: IV—Congress “makes effort”

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.

… Congress will make every effort in their power to obtain from the respective states substantial funds, adequate to the object of funding the whole debt of the United States, …

Congressional Resolution.

Saturday, January 25, 1783.

The grand committee, consisting of a member from each State, report,

THAT they have considered the contents of a memorial presented by the army, and find that they comprehend five different articles.

1st. Present pay.

2d. A settlement of accounts of the arrearages of pay and security for what is due.

3d. A commutation of the half-pay allowed by different resolutions of Congress for an equivalent in gross.

4th. A settlement of the accounts of deficiencies of rations and compensation.

5th. A settlement of the accounts of deficiencies of clothing and compensation:” Whereupon,

Resolved, As to the first, that the Superintendant of finance be directed conformable to the measures already taken for that purpose, as soon as the state of public finances will permit, to make such payment and in such manner as he shall think proper, until the further order of Congress.

Resolved, With respect to the 2d article, so far as relates to the settlement of accounts, that the several states be called upon to complete, without delay, the settlements with their respective lines of the army, up to the 1st day of August, 1780, and that the Superintendant of finance be directed to take such measures as shall appear to him most proper for effecting the settlement from that period.

As to what relates to the providing of security for what shall be found due on such settlement:

Resolved, That the troops of the United States in common with all the creditors of the same, have an undoubted right to expect such security; and that Congress will make every effort in their power to obtain from the respective states substantial funds, adequate to the object of funding the whole debt of the United States, and will enter upon an immediate and full consideration of the nature of such funds, and the most likely mode of obtaining them.

With respect to the 3d article,

Resolved, That it be left to the option of all officers entitled to half pay either to preserve their claim to that provision as it now stands by the several resolutions upon that subject, or to accept in lieu thereof six years full pay, to be paid to them, in one year after the conclusion of the war, in money, or placed upon good funded security bearing an annual interest of six per cent, provided that the allowance to widows and orphans of such officers as have died or been killed, or may die or be killed in the service during the war, shall remain as established by the resolution of the —

With respect to the 4th and 5th articles the Committee beg leave to delay their report, until they have obtained more precise information than they now possess upon the subject.

Ordered, That the remainder of the report be referred to a committee of five: the members, Mr. Osgood, Mr. Fitzsimmons, Mr. Gervais, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Wilson.

Ordered, That it be an order of the day for Monday next, to take into consideration the means of obtaining from the several states substantial funds, for funding the whole debt of the United States.

The committee of the week report that the memorial of Captain Buchanan be referred to the Secretary at War to enquire into the facts stated therein and to report to Congress how far a compliance with the prayer of the memorial will correspond with or contravene the regulations of Congress in similar cases.

Report Of The Committee To General Knox.

General Knox was appointed on the part of the army to correspond with the committee—General McDougal and Colonels Brooks and Ogden—respecting the objects of their commission, and received from them the following report:

Philadelphia, February 8, 1783.


THE army has, no doubt, been anxious to hear from us, and we should have had as much pleasure in communicating to them any success of our application for them, as they in receiving it; but nothing of any moment has yet been decided for them. We spent the first week after our arrival in conversing with the members of Congress on the subject of the address, to prepare them for the reception of it before it was read, lest the want of information should retard a favorable resolution on it. On its being read, a committee was appointed to confer with us, consisting of a member from each State but Georgia, which was unrepresented, and had no member attending. The financier attended at this meeting. To this committee we communicated the condition of the army, and we dilated very diffusely on all the subjects stated in the address; indeed, truth and decency were the only bounds observed in our conference with them. The reason of our applying to Congress to determine on a compensation for half-pay was also minutely detailed.

The result as to present pay will be communicated to you by Colonel Brooks. On this subject we can only commit to paper, that a month’s pay in notes to the officers, and one to the noncommissioned and privates, as weekly payments of half a dollar per week to the latter is all that can be now obtained. This grand committee appointed a sub-committee to converse with us, as occasion should require, if any new matter occurred to us; and to inspect critically into the principles of annuities, in order to determine on an equivalent for the half-pay.

In about ten days they reported to the grand committee, that twelve years was a mean life of the ages of the officers of the army, and that six whole years’ pay was equal, to the country and the army, to the half-pay for life. The committee then reported to Congress, which produced the resolutions which have been transmitted to the Commander-in-chief. That part of the report, which respected the value of the half-pay, was recommitted to a smaller committee, the number of years being considered too many.

This committee took up some time to examine calculations on annuities, and two days ago they reported five years’ whole pay as equal to the half-pay for life; but nine States would not approve the report, Georgia, Maryland, and Delaware unrepresented. We advised our friends not to press for a determination, if they could not carry the question; as the sense of Maryland and Delaware were known to be favorable to us, and their delegates were daily expected in town. On discussion in Congress, some of the members opposed to the commutation, and equally so to half-pay, expressed a desire to put off the question, to give them time for more consideration; it was accordingly granted. Thus stands the matter of commutation.

Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina were for the equivalent; New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Jersey were against it. There is some prospect of getting one more of these States to vote for the commutation. If this is accomplished, with Maryland and Delaware, the question will be carried; whenever it is, as the report now stands, it will be at the election of a line, as such, to accept of the commutation or retain their claim to the half-pay, Congress being determined, that no alteration shall take place in the emolument held out to the army but by their consent.

This rendered it unnecessary for us to consult the army on the equivalent for the half-pay. The zeal of a great number of members of Congress to get Continental funds, while a few wished to have us referred to the States, indueed us to conceal what funds we wished, or expected, lest our declaration for one or the other might retard a settlement of our accounts, or a determination on the equivalent for half-pay. Indeed, some of our best friends in Congress declared, however desirous they were to have our accounts settled, and the commutation fixed, as well as to get funds, yet they would oppose referring us to the States for a settlement and security, till all prospect of obtaining Continental funds was at an end.

Whether this is near or not, as commutation for the half-pay was one of the principal objects of the address, the obtaining of that is necessary, previous to our particularizing what fund will be most agreeable to us; this must be determined by circumstances. If Congress get funds we shall be secured. If not, the equivalent settled, a principle will be established, which will be more acceptable to the eastern States than half-pay, if application must be made to them. As it is not likely that Congress will be able to determine soon on the commutation (for the reasons above mentioned), it is judged necessary that Colonel Brooks return to the army, to give them a more particular detail of our prospects than can be done in the compass of a letter. It is however thought proper, that General McDougall should remain in Philadelphia, to endeavour at a proper time to bring on the determination of Congress on the important question, as well as to quicken the accomplishment of the other points contained in the address. In the mean time Colonel Ogden visits his family, as well as to do some business which will greatly promote the object of our being sent here. Colonel Ogden will, however, return, if it should be judged necessary. We conceive it expedient to make the army this general report, and beg leave to refer you to Colonel Brooks for a more particular one.

We are, Sir, with great truth, your affectionate humble servants.