© Don Troiani
the Commander-in-Chief's Life Guard, 1777

A Brief Profile of the Continental Army

© 1999 -- 2021 - John K. Robertson and Bob McDonald


© Don Troiani
General George Washington

Note: The transcription that follows has been modified as to format for the convenience of current-day readers. Those familiar with eighteenth-century manuscripts will recognize that spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure were all quite erratic, varying from one writer to another and also for the same writer over time. Additionally, all period recordings of Washington’s Newburgh address are, in themselves, copies and transcriptions made from the original, from notes, and/or from memory. Therefore, there is no way to ascertain the exact manner in which the comments were written, the original now being missing. Lastly, the address was primarily intended to be heard, not read. Inflections and stylistic issues of verbal presentation surely would have outweighed the correct or incorrect presence of a period versus a semicolon. For all these reasons, but particularly to align the address with present-day standards for reader convenience, modifications have been freely made to “modernize” it’s stylistic flow. In no way, however, have any revisions been made as to the content of the address, its words being strictly those of the General.

                                                Head Quarters Newburgh 15th of March 1783


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 and 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 through 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 with suspicion the man who would recommend moderation or longer forbearance, or, in other 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 for 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 to 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 past distresses without giving time for cool, deliberative thinking and that composure of mind which is so necessary to give dignity and stability to measures is rendered too obvious by the mode of conducting the business to need other proof than a reference to the preceding.

Thus much, Gentlemen, I have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you, to show 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 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 and 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 on public duty, as I have been the constant companion and witness of your distresses and not among the last to feel and 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 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 separation, are we to take the first two (the latter cannot be removed) to perish in a wilderness with hunger, cold and nakedness? If peace takes place, never sheath your sword, says he, until you have obtained full and ample justice. This dreadful alternative, of 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 and separation between the civil and 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 and 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 and silent, we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.

I cannot, in justice to my own belief and what I have great reason to conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this address without giving it as my decided opinion that that Honorable body entertain exalted sentiments of the services of the army and, from a full conviction of its merits and sufferings, will do it complete justice. That their endeavors to discover and establish funds for this purpose have been unwearied and will not cease till they have succeeded, I have no 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 shadow over that glory which has been so justly acquired and tarnish the reputation of an army which is celebrated through all Europe for its fortitude and patriotism? And for what is this done? To bring the object we seek 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 and justice), a grateful sense of the confidence you have ever placed in me, a recollection of the cheerful assistance and prompt obedience I have experienced from you under every vicissitude of fortune, and the sincere affection I feel for an army I have so long had the honor to command, will oblige me to declare in this public and solemn manner that in the attainment of complete justice for all your toils and 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 myself 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 and 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 dissolution as an army, they will cause all your accounts to be 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 and national character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our country and who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood.

By thus determining, and thus acting, you will pursue the plain and 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 and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings. And you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind: “Had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.”