Revolution, 1753-1783

Author: George Washington  | Date: December, 1776

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Washington, Discouraged, Appeals to Congress

OWING to the number of letters, I write, the recollection of any particular one is destroyed, but I think my last to you was by Colonel Woodford, from Hackinsac. Since that time, and a little before, our affairs have taken an adverse turn, but not more than was to be expected from the unfortunate measures, which had been adopted for the establishment of our army. The retreat of the enemy from White Plains led me to think, that they would turn their thoughts to the Jerseys, if no farther, and induced me to cross the North River with some of the troops in order if possible to oppose them. I expected to have met at least five thousand men of the Flying Camp and militia; instead of which I found less than one half of that number, and no disposition in the inhabitants to afford the least aid. This being perfectly well known to the enemy, they threw over a large body of troops, which pushed us from place to place, till we were obliged to cross the Delaware with less than three thousand men fit for duty, owing to the dissolution of our force by short enlistments; the enemy’s numbers, from the best accounts, exceeding ten or twelve thousand men….

. . . We are in a very disaffected part of the province; and, between you and me, I think our affairs are in a very bad situation; not so much from the apprehension of General Howe’s army, as from the defection of New York, Jerseys and Pennsylvania….

I have no doubt but General Howe will still make an attempt upon Philadelphia this winter. I see nothing to oppose him a fortnight hence, as the time of all the troops, except those of Virginia reduced (almost to nothing,) and Smallwood’s Regiment of Maryland, equally as bad, will expire in less than that time. In a word, my dear Sir, if every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in a great measure, to the insidious arts of the enemy, and disaffection of the colonies before mentioned, but principally to the accursed policy of short enlistments, and placing too great a dependence on the militia, the evil consequences of which were foretold fifteen months ago, with a spirit almost prophetic. Before this reaches you, you will no doubt have heard of the captivity of General Lee. This is an additional misfortune, and the more vexatious, as it was by his own folly and imprudence, (and without a view to answer any good,) he was taken, going three miles out of his own camp, and within twenty of the enemy to lodge, a rascally Tory rode in the night to give notice of it to the enemy, who sent a party of Light-Horse that seized and carried him, with every mark of triumph and indignity.

You can form no idea of the perplexity of my situation. No man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties, and less means to extricate himself from them. However, under a full persuasion of the justice of our cause, I cannot entertain an idea, that it will finally sink, though it may remain for some time under a cloud….


THE pay of our artillerists bearing no proportion to that in the English and French service, the murmuring and dissatisfaction thereby occasioned, the absolute impossibility, as I am told, of getting them upon the old terms, and the unavoidable necessity of obtaining them at all events, have induced me, also by advice, to promise officers and men, that their pay shall be augmented twenty-five percent, or that their engagements shall become null and void. This may appear to Congress premature and unwarrant able. But, Sir, if they view our situation in the light it strikes their officers, they will be convinced of the utility of the measure, and that the execution could not be delayed till after their meeting at Baltimore. In short, the present exigency of our affairs will not admit of delay, either in council or the field; for well convinced I am, that, if the enemy go into quarters at all, it will be for a short season. But I rather think the design of General Howe is to possess himself of Philadelphia this winter, if possible; and in truth I do not see what is to prevent him, as ten days more will put an end to the existence of our army. That one great point is to keep us as much harassed as possible, with a view to injure the recruiting service and hinder a collection of stores and other necessaries for the next campaign, I am as clear in, as I am of my existence. If, therefore, we have to provide in the short interval and make these great and arduous prep arations, every matter that in its nature is self-evident is to be referred to Congress, at the distance of a hundred and thirty or forty miles, so much time must necessary elapse, as to defeat the end in view.

It may be said, that this is an application for powers that are too dangerous to be entrusted. I can only add, that desperate diseases require desperate remedies; and I with truth declare, that I have no lust after power, but I wish with as much fervency as any man upon this wide-extended continent for an opportunity of turning the sword into the ploughshare. But my feelings, as an officer and a man, have been such as to force me to say, that no person ever had a greater choice of difficulties to contend with than I have. It is needless to add, that short enlistments, and a mistaken dependence upon militia, have been the origin of all our misfortunes, and the great accumulation of our debt. We find, Sir, that the enemy are daily gathering strength from the disaffected. This strength, like a snow-ball by rolling, will increase unless some means can be devised to check effectually the progress of the enemy’s arms. Militia may possibly do it for a little while; but in a little while, also, and the militia of those States, which have been frequently called upon, will not turn out at all; or, if they do, it will be with so much reluctance and sloth, as to amount to the same thing. Instance New Jersey! Witness Pennsylvania! Could anything but the river Delaware have saved Philadelphia? Can any thing (the exigency of the case indeed may justify it) be more destructive to the recruiting service, than giving ten dollars’ bounty for six weeks’ service of the militia, who come in, you cannot tell how, go, you cannot tell when, and act, you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last at a critical moment?

These, Sir, are the men I am to depend upon, ten days hence; this is the basis, on which your cause will and must forever depend, till you get a large standing army sufficient of itself to oppose the enemy. I there fore beg leave to give it as my humble opinion, that eighty-eight battalions are by no means equal to the opposition you are to make, and that a moment’s time is not to be lost in raising a greater number, not less, in my opinion and the opinion of my officers, than a hundred and ten. It may be urged that it will be found difficult enough to complete the first number. This may be true, and yet the officers of a hundred and ten battalions will recruit many more men, than those of eighty-eight. In my judgment this is not a time to stand upon expense; our funds are not the only object of consideration. The State of New York have added one battalion (I wish they had made it two) to their quota. If any good officers will offer to raise men upon Continental pay and establishment in this quarter, I shall encourage them to do so, and regiment them when they have done it. If Congress disapprove of this proceeding, they will please to signify it, as I mean it for the best. It may be thought that I am going a good deal out of the line of my duty, to adopt these measures, or to advise thus freely. A character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the inestimable blessing of liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must be my excuse.


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Chicago: George Washington, "Washington, Discouraged, Appeals to Congress," Revolution, 1753-1783 in America, Vol.3, Pp.200-205 Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022,

MLA: Washington, George. "Washington, Discouraged, Appeals to Congress." Revolution, 1753-1783, in America, Vol.3, Pp.200-205, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Washington, G, 'Washington, Discouraged, Appeals to Congress' in Revolution, 1753-1783. cited in , America, Vol.3, Pp.200-205. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from