Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Importance of the Military by George Washington

In the harsh winter of 1777-78, the Continental Army camped at Valley Forge under the command of General George Washington.  During this period, Washington wrote of his increasing frustrations with Congress.  The following is an excerpt from a letter dated April 21, 1778, addressed to John Banister where Washington shares his sentiments about the army:


“I am pleased to find, that you expect the proposed establishment of the Army will succeed; though it is painful consideration, that matters of such pressing importance and obvious necessity meet with so much difficulty and delay.  Be assured the success of the measure is a matter of the most serious moment, and that it ought to be brought to a conclusion, as speedily as possible.”


Washington’s view of Peace talks:


“The necessity of putting the Army upon a respectable footing, both as to numbers and constitution, is now become more essential than ever.  The Enemy are beginning to play a Game more dangerous than their efforts by Arms, tho’ these will not be remitted in the smallest degree, and which threatens a fatal blow to American Independence, and to her liberties of course:  They are endeavouring to ensnare the people by specious allurements of Peace.  It is not improbable they have had such abundant cause to be tired of the War, that they may be sincere, in the terms they offer, which, though far short of our pretentions, will be extremely flattering to Minds that do not penetrate far into political consequences:  But, whether they are sincere or not, they may be equally destructive; for, to discerning Men, nothing can be more evident, than that a Peace on the principles of dependence, however limited, after what has happened, would be to the last degree dishonourable and ruinous.”


Washington’s view of the Army:


“It is our policy to be prejudiced against them in time of War….  in my Opinion….  We should all be considered, Congress, Army, &c. as one people, embarked in one Cause, in one interest; action on the same principle and to the same End.  The distinction, the Jealousies set up, or perhaps only incautiously let out, can answer not a single good purpose.  They are impolitic extreme.  Among Individuals, the most certain way to make a Man your Enemy, is to tell him, you esteem him such; so with public bodies; and the very jealousy, which the narrow politics of some may affect to entertain of the Army, in order to a due subordination to the supreme Civil Authority, is a likely mean to produce a contrary effect; to incline it to the pursuit of those measures which that may wish it to avoid.  It is unjust, because no Order of Men in the thirteen States have paid a more sanctimonious regard to their proceedings than the Army; and, indeed, it may be questioned, whether there has been that scrupulous adherence had to them by any other, for without arrogance, or the smallest deviation from tuth it may be said, that no history, now extant, can furnish an instance of an Army’s suffering such uncommon hardships as ours have done, and bearing them with the ssame patience and Fortitude.  To see Men without Cloathes to cover their nakedness, without Blankets to lay on, without Shoes, by which their Marches might be traced by the Blood from their feet, and almost as often without Provisions as with; Marching through frost and Snow, and at Christmas taking up their Winter Quarters within a day’s March of the enemy, without a House or Hutt to cover them till they could be built and submitting to it without a murmur, is a mark of patience and obedience which in my opinion can scarce be parallel’d.”

Washington acknowledges the Army’s “complaints” but admonishes Congress for the useless delay in providing essentials for the military:


“There may have been some remonstrances or applications to Congress, in the stile of complaint from the Army and slaves indeed should we be, if this privilidge was denied, on Account of their proceedings in particular instances; but these will not Authorize nor even excuse a jealousy, that they are therefore aiming at unreasonable powers; or making strides, dangerous, or subversive of Civil Authority.  Things should not be viewed in that light, more especially, as Congress, in some cases, have relieved the injuries complained of, and which had flowed from their own Acts.



*My emphasis added.

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