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The American Revolution
Creating a Continental Army
The Continental Congress Grants Washington Greater Powers, December 27, 1776

The victory of the Continental Army at Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas night 1776 provided Washington with important prestige. He was now in a better position to use the powers Congress had already granted him as well as the power it would grant him in the following resolution. In response to this resolution, Lord George Germaine said in a speech to the House of Commons that the Continental Congress had made Washington the "dictator of America." What powers did Congress bestow on Washington? Why did Congress bestow these powers? How could Lord Germaine have seen these as "dictatorial powers"?

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The committee on the state of the army, brought in their report, which was taken into consideration; Whereupon,

Resolved, That a brigadier general of artillery be appointed; and, the ballots being taken, Colonel Henry Knox was elected.

Resolved, That General Washington be empowered to use every endeavour, by giving bounties and otherwise, to prevail upon the troops, whose time of inlistment shall expire at the end of the month, to stay with the army so long after that period, as its situation shall render their stay necessary:

That the new levies in Virginia, Maryland, the Delaware state, Pensylvania, and New Jersey, be ordered to march by companies, and parts of companies, as fast as they shall be raised, and join the army under General Washington, with the utmost despatch:

That the foregoing resolution be transmitted by the president to the executive powers of the states before mentioned, who are requested to carry it into execution; to appoint commissaries to precede the troops, and procure provision for them on their march; and that they be empowered to draw money for this purpose from the nearest continental pay master . . .

That General Washington be requested to fix upon that system of promotion in the continental army, which, in his opinion, and that of the general officers with him, will produce most general satisfaction; that it be suggested to him, whether a promotion of field officers in the colonial line, and of captains and subalterns in the regimental line, would not be the most proper. . .

The unjust, but determined, purpose of the British court to enslave these free states, obvious through every delusive insinuation to the contrary, having placed things in such a situation, that the very existence of civil liberty now depends on the right execution of military powers, and the vigorous, decisive conduct of these, being impossible to distant, numerous, and deliberative bodies:

This Congress, having maturely considered the present crisis; and having perfect reliance on the wisdom, vigour, and uprightness of General Washington, do, hereby,

Resolved, That General Washington shall be, and he is hereby, vested with full, ample, and complete powers to raise and collect together, in the most speedy and effectual manner, from any or all of these United States, 16 batallions of infantry, in addition to those already voted by Congress; to appoint officers for the said batallions; to raise, officer, and equip three thousand light horse; three regiments of artillery, and a corps of engineers, and to establish their pay; to apply to any of the states for such aid of the militia as he shall judge necessary; to form such magazines of provisions, and in such places, as he shall think proper; to displace and appoint all officers under the rank of brigadier general, and to fill up all vacancies in every other department in the American armies; to take, wherever he may be, whatever he may want for the use of the army, if the inhabitants will not sell it, allowing a reasonable price for the same; to arrest and confine persons who refuse to take the continental currency, or are otherwise disaffected to the American cause; and return to the states of which they are citizens, their names, and the nature of their offences, together with the witnesses to prove them:

That the foregoing powers be vested in General Washington, for and during the term of six months from the date hereof, unless sooner determined by Congress.

Resolved, That the council of safety of Pensylvania be requested to take the most vigorous and speedy measures for punishing all such as shall refuse continental currency; and that the General be directed to give all necessary aid to the council of safety, for carrying their measures on this subject into effectual execution.
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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.