History textbooks often suggest that the British surrender at Yorktown, for all intents and purposes, ended the Revolutionary War. By October of 1782, however, negotiations for peace between Britain and the United States had only just begun. Washington, as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, had to assume that the war was far from over. In the following letter from George Washington to Secretary of War Benjamin Lincoln, what issues does Washington bring to Lincoln's attention? What was Lincoln's response?
Head Quarters, October 2, 1782.
My dear Sir: Painful as the task is to describe the dark side of our affairs, it some times becomes a matter of indispensable necessity. Without disguize or palliation, I will inform you candidly of the discontents which, at this moment, prevail universally throughout the Army.
The Complaint of Evils which they suppose almost remedies less are, the total want of Money, or the means of existing from One day to another, the heavy debts they have already incurred, the loss of Credit, the distress of their Families (i e such as are Maried) at home, and the prospect of Poverty and Misery before them. [It is vain Sir, to suppose that Military Men will acquiesce contently with bare rations, when those in the Civil walk of life (unacquainted with half the hardships they endure) are regularly paid the emoluments of Office; while the human Mind is influenced by the same passions, and have the same inclinations to endulge it cannt. be. A Military Man has the same turn to sociability as a person in Civil life; he conceives himself equally called upon to live up to his rank; and his pride is hurt when circumstans. restrain him. Only conceive then, the mortification they (even the Genl. Officers) must suffer when they cannot invite a French Officer, a visiting friend, or travelling acquaintance to a better repast than stinking Whiskey (and not always that) and a bit of Beef without Vegitables, will afford them.]
The Officers also complain of other hardships which they think might and ought to be remedied without delay, viz, the stopping Promotions where there have been vacancy's open for a long time, the withholding Commissions from those who are justly entitled to them and have Warrants or Certificates of their Appointments from the Executive of their States, and particularly the leaving the compensation for their services, in a loose equivocal state, without ascertaining their claims upon the public, or making provision for the future payment of them.
While I premise, that tho' no one that I have seen or heard of, appears opposed to the principle of reducing the Army as circumstances may require; Yet I cannot help fearing the Result of the measure in contemplation, under present circumstances when I see such a Number of Men goaded by a thousand stings of reflexion on the past, and of anticipation on the future, about to be turned into the World, soured by penury and what they call the ingratitude of the Public, involved in debts, without one farthing of Money to carry them home, after having spent the flower of their days [and many of them their patrimonies] in establishing the freedom and Independence of their Country, and suffered every thing human Nature is capable of enduring on this side of death; I repeat it, these irritable circumstances, without one thing to sooth their feelings, or frighten the gloomy prospects, I cannot avoid apprehending that a train of Evils will follow, of a very serious and distressing Nature. On the other hand could the Officers be placed in as good a situation as when they came into service, the contention, I am persuaded, would be not who should continue in the field, but who should retire to private life.
I wish not to heighten the shades of the picture, so far as the real life would justify me in doing, or I would give Anecdotes of patriotism and distress which have scarcely ever been paralleled, never surpassed in the history of Mankind; but you may rely upon it, the patience and long sufferance of this Army are almost exhausted, and that there never was so great a spirit of Discontent as at this instant: While in the field, I think it may be kept from breaking out into Acts of Outrage, but when we retire into Winter Quarters (unless the Storm is previously dissipated) I cannot be at ease, respecting the consequences. It is high time for a Peace.
To you, my dear Sir, I need not be more particular in describing my Anxiety and the grounds of it. You are too well acquainted, from your own service, with the real sufferings of the Army to require a longer detail; I will therefore only add that exclusive of the common hardships of a Military life, Our Troops have been, and still are obliged to perform more services foreign to their proper duty, without gratuity or reward, than the Soldiers of any other Army; for example, the immense labours expended [in doing the duties of Artificers] in erecting Fortifications and Military Works; the fatigue of building themselves Barracks or Huts annually; And of cutting and transporting Wood for the use of all our Posts and Garrisons, without any expence whatever to the Public.
Of this Letter, (which from the tenor of it must be considered in some degree of a private nature) you may make such use as you shall think proper. Since the principal objects of it were, by displaying the Merits, the hardships, the disposition and critical state of the Army, to give information that might eventually be useful, and to convince you with what entire confidence and esteem. I am etc.
Secretary Lincoln answered this (October 14) in a private letter, which is in part as follows:
"You mention as a ground of complaint that the compensation to the Army for their services is left in a loose, equivocal state etc. Of this I am fully convinced and from the knowledge I have of the temper of Congress I have little expectation that the matter of half pay, to which I suppose you allude, will be in a better situation than it now is until it shall be recommended by Congress to the several States to provide for their own Officers which I am apprehensive will not be done unless Congress know, in some way or other, that it is the wish of the officers that they would do it.
"You know sir that no moneis can be appropriated but by the voice of nine States. There were not that number in favor of half pay when the vote to grant it passed in Congress which was a vote before the confederation was signed and practiced upon but is not now. I see little probability that a sum equal to the half pay will be appropriated to that purpose and apportioned on the several States. Massachusetts is one of those States who have always been opposed to the measure indeed there is but one State east of this which agreed to it in the first place there is too great a part of the Union opposed to the haft pay to think of carrying it through, the States in the oposition cannot be coerced. They say they are willing to make a handsome compensation by compromised; that they will give a sum which shall be just and honorable from this it will be difficult if not impossible to persuade them to depart. I am my self fully in opinion that it will be much the best for the army to be referred to their several States and that their expectations will end in Chagrin and disappointment if they look for half pay from Congress. Let us for a moment reflect how Congress will avail themselves of money to discharge this debt they cannot appropriate any part of the sum, to this use, which shall be annually apportioned on the several States, for the reasons I mentioned before there are not nine States in favor of it. Should it be said that it may be paid out of the revenue of some general tax it will not remove the objection the money arising from these general taxes must be appropriated also if such taxes were passed no one of those proposed has yet passed and I see little probability that any of them will soon if ever."