Washington calls for better terms of enlistment (1776)


In September 1776 General George Washington wrote to John Hancock, then president of the Continental Congress, calling for increased salaries and better terms of enlistment for his officers and soldiers:


“Sir,

From the hours allotted to sleep, I will borrow a few moments to convey my thoughts on sundry important matters to Congress. I shall offer them with the sincerity which ought to characterise a man of candour…

We are now, as it were, upon the eve of another dissolution of our Army… It is in vain to expect that any, or more than a trifling part of this Army will again engage in service on the encouragement [currently] offered by Congress. When men find that their townsmen and companions are receiving 20, 30 and more dollars for a few months service (which is truly the case) it cannot be expected without using compulsion; and to force them into the service would answer no valuable purpose.

When men are irritated, and passions inflamed, they fly hastily and cheerfully to arms; but after the first emotions are over, to expect among such people [that] they are influenced by any other principles than those of interest, is to look for what never will happen… A soldier reasoned with upon the goodness of the cause he is engaged in, and the inestimable rights he is contending for, hears you with patience and acknowledges the truth of your observations – but adds that it is of no more importance to him than others. The officer makes you the same reply, with this further remark: that his pay will not support him, and he cannot ruin himself and his family to serve his country…

There are, in my judgment, no other possible means to obtain [good officers] but by establishing your army upon a permanent footing; and giving your officers good pay… They ought to have such allowances as will enable them to live like… gentlemen; and not be driven by a scanty pittance to the low and dirty arts which many of them practice… Besides, something is due to the man who puts his life in his hands, hazards his health, and foresakes the sweets of domestic enjoyments…

With respect to the men [non-officers], nothing but a good bounty can obtain them upon a permanent establishment; and they ought they to be engaged for no shorter time than the continuance of the war. As facts incontestibly prove, the difficulty and cost of enlistments increase with time… I shall therefore take the freedom of giving it as my opinion that a good bounty be immediately offered, aided by the proffer [promise] of at least 100 or 150 acres of land and a suit of clothes and blankets, to each non commissioned officer and soldier. As I have good authority for saying, however high the men’s pay may appear, it is barely sufficient in the present scarcity and dearness of all kinds of goods to keep them in clothes, much less afford support to their families.

If this encouragement then is given to the men, and such pay allowed the officers as will induce gentlemen of character and liberal sentiments to engage… we should in a little time have an Army able to cope with any that can be opposed to it, as there are excellent materials to form one out of…”

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •