The Newburgh Address 1783
The Anonymous Letter
T0 THE OFFICERS OF THE ARMY.
A FELLOW-SOLDIER, whose interest and affections bind him strongly to you; whose past sufferings have been as great, and whose future fortune may be as desperate as yours— would beg leave to address you. Age has its claims, and rank is not without its pretensions to advise; but though unsupported by both, he flatters himself that the plain language of sincerity and experience, will neither be unheard nor unregarded. Like many of you, he loved private life, and left it with regret. He left it, determined to retire from the field with the necessity that called him to it, and not till then; not till the enemies of his country, the slaves of power, and the hirelings of injustice, were compelled to abandon their schemes, and acknowledge America as terrible in arms as she had been humble in remonstrance.
With this object in view, he has long shared in your toils, and mingled in your dangers; he has felt the cold hand of poverty without a murmur, and has seen the insolence of wealth without a sigh. But, too much under the direction of his wishes, and sometimes weal enough to mistake desire for opinion, he has, till lately, very lately, believed in the justice of his country. He hoped, that as the clouds of adversity scattered, and as the sun-shine of peace and better fortune broke in upon us, the coldness and severity of government would relax, and that, more than justice, that gratitude would blaze forth upon those hands which had upheld her in the darkest stages of her passage, from impending servitude to acknowledged independence.
But faith has its limits, as well as temper; and there are points beyond which neither can be stretched, without sinking into cowardice, or plunging into credulity. This, my friends, I conceive to be your situation. Hurried to the very verge of both, another step would ruin you forever. To be tame and unprovoked when injuries press hard upon you, is more than weakness; but to look up for kinder usage, without one manly effort of your own, would fix your character, and show the world how richly you deserve those chains you broke. To guard against this evil, let us take a review of the ground upon which we now stand, and from thence carry our thoughts forward for a moment, into the unexplored field of expedient.
After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out is at length brought within our reach!— Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours, was active once— it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war! It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace again returns to bless— whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services; a country courting your return to private life, with tears of gratitude, and smiles of admiration; longing to divide with you that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved? Is this the case? Or is it rather, a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses? Have you not, more than once, suggested your wishes, and made known your wants to Congress? Wants and wishes which gratitude and policy should have anticipated, rather than evaded. And have you not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorial, begged from their justice, what you would no longer expect from their favour? How have you been answered? Let the letter which you are called to consider to-morrow, make reply.
If this, then, be your treatment, while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America, what have you to expect from peace, when your voice shall sink, and your strength dissipate by division?
When these very swords, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of military distinction left, but your wants, infirmities, and scars! can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honour?— if you can, go— and carry with you the jest of tories, and the scorn of whigs— the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world! Go, starve, and be forgotten!
But if your spirit should revolt at this; if you have sense enough to discover, and spirit enough to oppose tyranny, under whatever garb it may assume; whether it be the plain coat of republicanism, or the splendid robe of royalty; if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a cause, between men and principles— awake!— attend to your situation, and redress yourselves. If the present moment be lost, every future effort is in vain; and your threats then will be as empty as your entreaties now.
I would advise you, therefore, to come to some final opinion, upon what you can bear, and what you will suffer. If your determination be in any proportion to your wrongs, carry your appeal from the justice to the fears of government— change the milk and water style of your last memorial; assume a bolder tone—decent, but lively—spirited and determined; and suspect the man who would advise to more moderation and longer forbearance. Let two or three men, who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw up your last remonstrance; for I would no longer give it the sueing, soft, unsuccessful epithet of memorial. Let it be represented (in language that will neither dishonour you by its rudeness, nor betray you by its fears) what has been promised by Congress, and what has been performed; how long and how patiently you have suffered; how little you have asked, and how much of that little has been denied. Tell them that though you were the first, and would wish to be the last, to encounter danger; though despair itself can never drive you into dishonour, it may drive you from the field; that the wound often irritated, and never healed, may at length become incurable; and that the slightest mark of indignity from Congress now, must operate like the grave, and part you for ever; that in any political event, the army has its alternative. If peace, that nothing shall separate you from your arms but death; if war, that courting the auspices and inviting the directions of your illustrious leader, you will retire to some unsettled country, smile in your turn, and ‘mock when their fear cometh on.’
But let it represent also, that should they comply with the request of your late memorial, it would make you more happy, and them more respectable: that while the war should continue, you would follow their standard into the field— and when it came to an end, you would withdraw into the shade of private life, and give the world another subject of wonder and applause— an army victorious over its enemies— victorious over itself.”
Source: The Life of George Washington, by David Ramsay, New York, 1807.
“By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together? how inconsistent with the rules of propriety! — how unmilitary! — and how subversive of all order and discipline, let the good sense of the army decide.
“In the moment of this summons, another anonymous production was sent into circulation; addressed more to the feelings of passions, than to the reason & judgment of the army.—The author of the piece, is entitled to much credit for the goodness of his pen: — and I could wish he had as much credit for the rectitude of his heart—for, as men we see thro’ different optics, and are induced by the reflecting faculties of the mind, to use different means to attain the same end: — the author of the address, should have had more charity, than to mark for suspicion, the man who should recommend moderation and longer forbearance—or, in others words, who should not think as he thinks, and act as he advises.—But he had another plan in view, in which candor and liberality of sentiment, regard to justice, and love of country, have no part, and he was right, to insinuate the darkest suspicion, to effect the blackest designs.
“That the address is drawn with great art, and is designed to answer the most insidious purposes.—That it is calculated to impress the mind, with an idea of premeditated injustice in the sovereign power of the United States, and rouse all those resentments which must unavoidably flow from such a belief.—That the secret mover of this scheme (whoever he may be) intended to take advantage of the passions, while they were warmed by the recollection of mind which is so necessary to give dignity & stability to measures, is rendered too obvious, by the mode of conducting the business to need other proof than a reference to the proceeding.
“Thus much, gentlemen, I have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you, to shew upon what principles I opposed the irregular and hasty meeting which was proposed to have been held on Tuesday last: — and not because I wanted a disposition to give you every opportunity, consistent with your own honor, and the dignity of the army, to make known your grievances.—If my conduct heretofore, has not evinced to you, that I have been a faithful friend to the army, my declaration of it at this time would be equally unavailing & improper.—But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common country—As I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you, on public duty—As I have been the constant companion& witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel, & acknowledge your merits—As I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseperably connected with that of the army—As my Heart has ever expanded with joy, when I have heard its praises—and my indignation has arisen, when the mouth of detraction has been opened against it— it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the war, that I am indifferent to its interests.
“But—how are they to be promoted? The way is plain, says the anonymous addresser—If war continues, remove into the unsettled country— there establish yourselves, and leave an ungrateful country to defend itself— But who are they to defend? — Our wives, our children, our farms, and other property which we leave behind us.—or—in this state of hostile seperation, are we to take the two first (the latter cannot be removed) — to perish in a wilderness, with hunger cold & nakedness? — If peace takes place, never sheath your sword says he until you have obtained full and ample justice—This dreadful alternative, of either deserting our country in the extremest hour of her distress, or turning our arms against it, (which is the apparent object, unless Congress can be compelled into instant compliance) has something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea.
“My God! What can this writer have in view, by recommending such measures? ? Can he be a friend to the army? — Can he be a friend to this country? — Rather is he not an insidious foe? — Some emissary, perhaps, from New York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord & seperation between the civil & military powers of the continent? — And what compliment does he pay to our understandings, when he recommends measures in either alternative, impracticable in their nature?
“But here, gentlemen, I will drop the curtain; — and because it would be as imprudent in me to assign my reasons for this opinion, as it would be insulting to your conception, to suppose you stood in need of them.—A moment’s reflection will convince every dispassionate mind of the physical impossibility of carrying either proposal into execution.
“There might, gentlemen, be an impropriety in my taking notice, in this address to you, of an anonymous production—but the manner in which that performance has been introduced to the army—the effect it was intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply justify my observations on the tendency of that writing.—With respect to the advice given by the author—to suspect the man, who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance—I spurn it—as every man, who regards that liberty, & reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must — for if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind; reason is of no use to us—the freedom of speech may be taken away—and, dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.
“I cannot, in justice to my own belief,& what I have great reason to conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this address, without giving it as my decided opinion; that that honourable body, entertain exalted sentiments of the services of the army; — and, from a full conviction of its merits & sufferings, will do it complete justice: — That their endeavors, to discover & establish funds for this purpose, have been unwearied, and will not cease, till they have succeeded, I have succeeded, I have not a doubt. But, like all other large bodies, where there is a variety of different interests to reconcile, their deliberations are slow. ? Why then should we distrust them? — and, in consequence of that distrust, adopt measures, which may cast a shade over that glory which, has been so justly acquired; and tarnish the reputation of an army which is celebrated thro’ all Europe, for its fortitude and patriotism? — and for what is this done? — to bring the object we seek for nearer? — No! — most certainly, in my opinion, it will cast it at a greater distance.—
“For myself (and I take no merit in giving the assurance, being induced to it from principles of gratitude, veracity & Justice) — a grateful sense of the confidence you have ever placed in me—a recollection of the cheerful assistance, & prompt obedience I have experienced from you, under every vicisitude of fortune, — and the sincere I feel for an army I have so long had the honor to command, will oblige me to declare, in this public & solemn manner, that, in the attainment of compleat justice for all your toils & dangers, and in the gratification of every wish, so far as may be done consistently with the great duty I owe my country, and those powers we are bound to respect, you may freely command my services to the utmost of my abilities.
“While I give you these assurances, and pledge my self in the most unequivocal manner, to exert whatever ability I am possessed of, in your favor—let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, & sully the glory you have hitherto maintained—let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress; that, previous to your dissolution as an Army they will cause all your accounts to be fairly liquidated, as directed in their resolutions, which were published to you two days ago—and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power, to render ample justice to you, for your faithful and meritorious Services.—And let me conjure you, in the name of our common country—as you value your own sacred honor—as you respect the rights of humanity; as you regard the military & national character of America, to express your utmost horror & detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country, & who wickedly attempts to open the flood gates of civil discord,& deluge our rising empire in blood.
“By thus determining — & thus acting, you will pursue the plain & direct road to the attainment of your wishes.—You will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice.—You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism & patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; — And you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind, had this day been wanting, the world has never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.”
Source: The Life of George Washington, by David Ramsay, New York, 1807.