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The American Revolution
Creating a Continental Army
Washington to President of the Continental Congress, September 2, 1776

Washington wrote the following letter to the President of the Continental Congress several days after the Battle of Long Island. In that battle, Washington and his army were lucky to have escaped an even more devastating defeat than the one they suffered. In the aftermath of this battle, what is Washington's attitude toward militia forces? To what does he attribute the difficulties of using militia effectively? What arguments does Washington set forth for a standing army?

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New York, September 2, 1776.

Sir: As my Intelligence of late has been rather unfavorable and would be received with anxiety and concern, peculiarly happy should I esteem myself, were it in my power at this Time, to transmit such Information to Congress, as would be more pleasing and agreeable to their wishes: But unfortunately for me, unfortunately for them, It is not.

Our situation is truly distressing. The Check our Detachment sustained on the 27th. Ulto. has dispirited too great a proportion of our Troops and filled their minds with apprehension and dispair. The Militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition, in order to repair our Losses, are dismayed, Intractable and Impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off, in some instances almost by whole Regiments, by half ones and by Companies at a Time. This circumstance of itself, Independent of others, when fronted by a well appointed Enemy, superior in number to our whole collected force, would be sufficiently disagreeable, but when their example has Infected another part of the Army, When their want of discipline and refusal, of almost every kind of restraint and Government, have produced a like conduct but too common to the whole, and an entire disregard of that order and Subordination necessary to the well doing of an Army, and which had been inculcated before, as well as the nature of our Military establishment would admit of, our Condition is still more Alarming, and with the deepest concern I am obliged to confess my want of confidence, in the generality of the Troops. All these circumstances fully confirm the Opinion I ever entertained, and which I more than once in my letters took the Liberty of mentioning to Congress, That no dependence could be in a Militia or other Troops than those enlisted and embodied for a longer period than our regulations heretofore have prescribed. I am persuaded and as fully convinced, as I am of any one fact that has happened, that our Liberties must of necessity be greatly hazarded, If not entirely lost, If their defence is left to any but a permanent standing Army, I mean one to exist during the War. . . . Men who have been free and subject to no controul, cannot be reduced to order in an Instant, and the Priviledges and exemptions they claim and will have, Influence the Conduct of others, and the aid derived from them is nearly counterbalanced by the disorder, irregularity and confusion they Occasion. I can not find that the Bounty of Ten Dollars is likely to produce the desired effect. When men can get double that sum to engage for a month or two in the Militia and that Militia frequently called out,--It can hardly be expected. The addition of Land might have a considerable Influence on a permanent Inlistment. Our number of men at present fit for duty are under 20,000. They were so by the last return and best accounts I could get, after the Engagement on Long Island, since which numbers have deserted. . . ..
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