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The American Revolution
Creating a Continental Army
The Continental Congress Establishes Articles of War, June 30, 1775

The Continental Congress debated for several days the Articles of War governing the conduct of the Continental Army. Altogether, these Rules and Regulations comprised sixty-nine separate articles. In the first twelve of the articles below, what kinds of behaviors were addressed and what kinds of punishments were to be meted out to violators?

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The consideration of the articles of war being resumed, Congress agreed to the same:

Rules and Regulations

Whereas his Majesty's most faithful subjects in these Colonies are reduced to a dangerous and critical situation, by the attempts of the British Ministry, to carry into execution, by force of arms, several unconstitutional and oppressive acts of the British parliament for laying taxes in America, to enforce the collection of these taxes, and for altering and changing the constitution and internal police of some of these Colonies, in violation of the natural and civil rights of the Colonies.

And whereas hostilities have been actually commenced in Massachusetts Bay, by the British troops, under the command of General Gage, and the lives of a number of the inhabitants of that Colony destroyed; the town of Boston not only having been long occupied as a garrisoned town in an enemy's country, but the inhabitants thereof treated with a severity and cruelty not to be justified even towards declared enemies.

And whereas large reinforcements have been ordered, and are soon expected, for the declared purpose of compelling these Colonies to submit to the operation of the said acts, which hath rendered it necessary, and an indispensable duty, for the express purpose of securing and defending these Colonies, and preserving them in safety against all attempts to carry the said acts into execution; that an armed force be raised sufficient to defeat such hostile designs, and preserve and defend the lives, liberties and immunities of the Colonists: for the due regulating and well ordering of which;--

Resolved, That the following Rules and Orders be attended to, and observed by such forces as are or may hereafter be raised for the purposes aforesaid.

  • Article I. That every officer who shall be retained, and every soldier who shall serve in the Continental Army, shall, at the time of his acceptance of his commission or inlistment, subscribe these rules and regulations. And that the officers and soldiers, already of that army, shall also, as soon as may be, subscribe the same; from the time of which subscription every officer and soldier, shall be bound by those regulations. But if any of the officers or soldiers, now of the said army, do not subscribe these rules and regulations, then they may be retained in the said army, subject to the rules and regulations under which they entered into the service, or be discharged from the service, at the option of the Commander in chief.
  • Art. II. It is earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend Divine Service; and all officers and soldiers who shall behave indecently or irreverently at any place of Divine Worship, shall, if commissioned officers, be brought before a court-martial. there to be publicly and severely reprimanded by the President; if non-commissioned officers or soldiers, every person so offending, shall, for his first offence, forfeit One Sixth of a Dollar, to be deducted out of his next pay; for the second offence, he shall not only forfeit a like sum, but be confined for twenty-four hours, and for every like offence, shall suffer and pay in like manner; which money so forfeited, shall be applied to the use of the sick soldiers of the troop or company to which the offender belongs.
  • Art. III. Whatsoever non-commissioned officer or soldier shall use any profane oath or execration, shall incur the penalties expressed in the second article; and if a commissioned officer be thus guilty of profane cursing or swearing, he shall forfeit and pay for each and every such offence, the sum of Four Shillings, lawful money.
  • Art. IV. Any officer or soldier, who shall behave himself with contempt or disrespect towards the General or Generals, or Commanders in chief of the Continental Forces, or shall speak false words, tending to his or their hurt or dishonour, shall be punished according to the nature of his offence, by the judgment of a general court-martial.
  • Art. V. Any officer or soldier, who shall begin, excite, cause, or join in any mutiny or sedition, in the regiment, troop, or company to which he belongs, or in any other regiment, troop or company of the Continental Forces, either by land or sea, or in any party, post, detachment, or guard, on any pretence whatsoever, shall suffer such punishment, as by a general court-martial shall be ordered.
  • Art. VI. Any officer, non-commissioned officer, or soldier, who being present at any mutiny or sedition, does not use his utmost endeavours to suppress the same, or coming to the knowledge of any mutiny, or intended mutiny, does not, without delay, give information thereof to the commanding officer, shall be punished by order of a general court-martial, according to the nature of his offence.
  • Art. VII. Any officer or soldier, who shall strike his superior officer, or draw, or offer to draw, or shall lift up any weapon, or offer any violence against him, being in the execution of his office, on any pretence whatsoever, or shall disobey any lawful commands of his superior officer, shall suffer such punishment as shall, according to the nature of his offence, be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial.
  • Art. VIII. Any non-commissioned officer, or soldier, who shall desert, or without leave of his commanding officer, absent himself from the troop or company to which he belongs, or from any detachment of the same, shall, upon being convicted thereof, be punished according to the nature of his offence, at the discretion of a general court-martial.
  • Art. IX. Whatsoever officer, or soldier, shall be convicted of having advised or persuaded any other officer or soldier, to desert, shall suffer such punishment, as shall be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial.
  • Art. X. All officers, of what condition soever, shall have power to part and quell all quarrels, frays, and disorders, though the persons concerned, should belong to another regiment, troop, or company; and either order officers to be arrested, or non-commissioned officers, or soldiers, to be confined and imprisoned, till their proper superior officers shall be acquainted therewith: and whoever shall refuse to obey such officer, (though of an inferior rank,) or shall draw his sword upon him, shall be punished at the discretion of a general court-martial.
  • Art. XI. No officer or soldier shall use any reproachful or provoking speeches or gestures to another, nor shall presume to send a challenge to any person to fight a duel: And whoever shall, knowingly and willingly, suffer any person whatsoever to go forth to fight a duel, or shall second, promote, or carry any challenge, shall be deemed as a principal; and whatsoever officer or soldier shall upbraid another for refusing a challenge, shall also be considered as a challenger; and all such offenders, in any of these or such like cases, shall be punished at the discretion of a general court-martial.
  • Art. XII. Every officer, commanding in quarters or on a march, shall keep good order, and, to the utmost of his power, redress all such abuses or disorders which may be committed by any officer or soldier under his command: If upon any complaint [being] made to him, of officers or soldiers beating, or otherwise ill-treating any person, or of committing any kind of riot, to the disquieting of the inhabitants of this Continent; he the said commander, who shall refuse or omit to see justice done on the offender or offenders, and reparation made to the party or parties injured, as far as the offender's wages shall enable him or them, shall, upon due proof thereof, be punished as ordered by a general court-martial, in such manner as if he himself had committed the crimes or disorders complained of. . . .

Ordered, That Mr. [Silas] Deane, Mr. [Thomas] Cushing and Mr. [Joseph] Hewes, be a Committee to examine the rules and articles of war agreed to by the Congress, and get them printed as soon as possible.
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View the original document from the Journals of the Continental Congress in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.