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THE CIRCULAR LETTER TO THE STATES.
and shall continue to manifest, of quietly enjoy. ing in private life, after all the toils of war, the benefits of a wise and liberal government, will, I flatter myself, sooner or later, convince my countrymen, that I could have no sinister views in delivering, with so little reserve, the opinions con. tained in this address.
There are four things which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well-being, I may even venture to say, to the existence, of the United States, as an independent power.
1st. An indissoluble union of the States under one federal head.
2dly. A sacred regard to public justice.
3dly. The adoption of a proper peace establishment. And,
4thly. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and politics, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.
These are the pillars on which the glorious fabric of our independence and national character must be supported. Liberty is the basis, and whoever would dare to sap the foundation, or overturn the structure, under whatever specious pretext he may attempt it, will merit the bitter. est execration, and the severest punishment, which can be inflicted by his injured country.
On the three first articles I will make a few observations, leaving the last to the good sense and serious consideration of those immediately concerned.
Under the first head, although it may not be necessary or proper for me, in this place, to enter into a particular disquisition of the principles of the Union, and to take up the great question which has been frequently agitated, whether it be expedient and requisite for the States to delegate a large proportion of power to Congress or not; yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true patriot, to assert without reserve, and to in. sist upon the following positions. That unless the States will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives they are undoubtedly invested with by the Constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to anarchy and confusion. That it is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States, that there should be lodged somewhere a supreme power, to regulate and govern the general concerns of the confederated republic, without which the Union cannot be of long duration. There must be a faithful and pointed compliance on the part
of every State, with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue. That whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the sovereign authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the liberty and independence of America, and the authors of them treated accordingly. And lastly, that unless we can be enabled, by the concurrence of the States, to participate in the fruits of the Revolution, and enjoy the essential benefits of civil society, under a form of government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression, as has been devised and adopted by the Articles of Confederation, it will be the subject of regret, that so much blood and treasure have been lavished for no purpose; that so many sufferings have been counteracted without a compensation, and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain. Many other considerations might here be adduced to prove, that without an entire conformity to the spirit of the Union, we cannot exist as an independent power. It will be sufficient for my purpose to mention but one or two, which seem to me of the greatest importance. It is only in our united character, as an empire, that our independence is acknowledged, that our power can be regarded, or our credit supported among foreign nations. The treaties of the European powers with the United States of America, will have no validity on the dissolution of the Union. We shall be left nearly in a state of nature, or we may find by our own unhappy experience, that there is a natural and necessary progression from the extreme of anarchy to the extreme of ty. ranny; and that arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.
As to the second article, which respects the performance of public justice, Congress have, in their late address to the United States, almost exhausted the subject; they have explained their ideas so fully, and have enforced the obligations the States are under, to render complete justice to all the public creditors, with so much dignity and energy, that, in my opinion, no real friend to the honor and independency of America, can hesitate a single moment respecting the propriety of complying with the just and honorable measures prɔ. posed. If their arguments do not produce conviction, I know of nothing that will have a greater influence, especially when we reflect, that the system referred to, being the result of the collected wisdom of the continent, must be esteemed, if not perfect, certainly the least objectionable of any that could be devised; and that if it should not be
THE CIRCULAR LETTER TO THE STATES.
carried into immediate execution, a national bank. ruptcy, with all its deplorable consequences, will take place, before any different plan can possibly be proposed or adopted, so pressing are the present circumstances, and such the alternative now offered to the States.
The ability of the country to discharge the debts which have been incurred in its defence, is not to be doubted. An inclination, I flatter myself, will not be wanting; the path of our duty is plain before us; honesty will be found, on every experiment, to be the best and only true policy. Let us, then, as a nation, be just; let us fulfil the public contracts which Congress had undoubtedly a right to make for the purpose of carrying on the war, with the same good faith we suppose ourselves bound to perform our private engagements. In the meantime, let an attention to the cheerful performance of their proper business, as individuals, and as members of society, be ear. nestly inculcated on the citizens of America ; then will they strengthen the bands of government, and be happy under its protection. Every one will reap the fruit of his labors; every one will enjoy his own acquisitions, without molestation, and without danger.
In this state of absolute freedom, and perfect security, who will grudge to yield a very little of his property, to support the common interests of society, and ensure the protection of government? Who does not remember the frequent declarations at the commencement of the war, that we should be completely satisfied, if, at the expense of one half, we could defend the remainder of our possessions? Where is the man to be found, who wishes to remain indebted for the defence of his own person and property to the exertions, the bravery, and the blood of others, without making one generous effort to pay the debt of honor and of gratitude? In what part of the continent shall we find any man, or body of men, who would not blush to stand up, and propose measures pur. posely calculated to rob the soldier of his stipend, and the public creditor of his due? And were it possible, that such a flagrant instance of injustice could ever happen, would it not excite the general indignation, and tend to bring down upon the authors of such measures, the aggravated vengeance of heaven? If, after all, a spirit of disunion, or a temper of obstinacy and perverseness should manifest itself in any of the States; if such an ungracious disposition should attempt to frustrate all the happy effects that might be expected to flow from the Union; if there should be a refusal to comply with the requisitions for funds to discharge the annual interest of the public debts,
and if that refusal should revive all those jealousies, and produce all those evils which are now happily removed; Congress, who have in all their transactions, shown a great degree of magnanimity and justice, will stand justified in the sight of God and man! And that State alone, which puts itself in opposition to the aggregate wisdom of the continent, and follows such mistaken and pernicious counsels, will be responsible for all the consequences.
For my own part, conscious of having acted while a servant of the public, in the manner I conceived best suited to promote the real interests of my country; having, in consequence of my fixed belief, in some measure pledged myself to the army that their country would finally do them complete and ample justice, and not willing to conceal any instance of my official conduct from the eyes of the world, I have thought proper to transmit to your Excellency the enclosed collection of papers, relative to the half-pay and commutation granted by Congress to the officers of the army; from these communications, my decided sentiments will be clearly comprehended, together with the conclusive reasons, which induced me at an early period, to recommend the adoption of this measure in the most earnest and serious manner. As the proceedings of Congress, the army, and myself, are open to all, and contain, in my opinion, sufficient information, to remove the prejudice and errors which may have been entertained by any, I think it unnecessary to say any thing more, than just to observe, that the resolutions of Congress, now alluded to, are as undoubtedly and absolutely binding on the United States, as the most solemn acts of confederation or legislation.
As to the idea, which I am informed has, in some instances, prevailed, that the half-pay and commutation are to be regarded merely in the odious light of a pension, it ought to be exploded forever; that provision should be viewed, as it really was, a reasonable compensation offered by Congress, at a time when they had nothing else to give to officers of the army, for services then to be performed: it was the only means to prevent a total dereliction of the service; it was a part of their hire. I may be allowed to say, it was the price of their blood, and of your independency; it is therefore more than a common debt, a debt of honor; it can never be considered as a pension or gratuity, nor cancelled until it is fairly discharged.
With regard to the distinction between officers and soldiers, it is sufficient that the uniform experience of every nation in the world, combined 322
THE CIRCULAR LETTER TO THE STATES.
with our own, proves the utility and propriety of the discrimination. Rewards, in proportion to the aid the public draws from them, are unques. tionably due to all its servants. In some lines, the soldiers have perhaps had as ample compensation for their services, by the large bounties which have been paid to them, as their officers will receive in the proposed commutation: in others, if, besides the donation of land, the pay. ment of arrearages of clothing and wages (in which articles all the component parts of the army must be put upon the same footing) we take into the estimate the bounties many of the soldiers have received, and the gratuity of one year's full pay, which is promised to all, possibly their situation (every circumstance being duly considered) will not be deemed less eligible than that of the officers. Should a further reward, however, be judged equitable, I will venture to assert, no man will enjoy greater satisfaction than myself, in an exemption from taxes for a limited time, (which has been petitioned for in some instances,) or any other adequate immunity or compensation granted to the brave defenders of their country's cause; but neither the adoption nor rejection of this proposition will in any manner affect, much less militate against, the act of Con. gress, by which they have offered five years' full pay, in lieu of the half-pay for life, which had been before promised to the officers of the army.
Before I conclude the subject on public justice, I cannot omit to mention the obligations this country is under to that meritorious class of veterans, the non-commissioned officers and privates who have been discharged for inability, in consequence of the resolution of Congress, of the 23d of April, 1782, on an annual pension for life. Their peculiar sufferings, their singular merits and claims to that provision, need only to be known, to interest the feelings of humanity in their behalf. Nothing but a punctual payment of their annual allowance can rescue them from the most complicated misery; and nothing could be a more melancholy and distressing sight, than to behold those who have shed their blood, or lost their limbs in the service of their country, without a shelter, without a friend, and without the means of obtaining any of the comforts or necessaries of life, compelled to beg their daily bread from door to door. Suffer me to recommend those of this description, belonging to your State, to the warmest patronage of your Excel. lency and your Legislature.
It is necessary to say but a few words on the third topic which was proposed, and which regards particularly the defence of the republic. As there
can be little doubt but Congress will recommend a proper peace establishment for the United States, in which a due attention will be paid to the importance of placing the militia of the Union upon a regular and respectable footing; if this should be the case, I should beg leave to urge the great advantage of it in the strongest terms.
The militia of this country must be considered as the palladium of our security, and the first effectual resort in case of hostility; it is essential, therefore, that the same system should pervade the whole; and that the formation and discipline of the militia of the continent should be absolutely uniform; and that the same species of arms, accoutrements, and military apparatus, should be introduced in every part of the United States. No one, who has not learned it from experience, can conceive the difficulty, expense, and confusion which result from a contrary system, or the vague arrangements which have hitherto prevailed.
If, in treating of political points, a greater latitude than usual has been taken in the course of the Address, the importance of the crisis and magnitude of the objects in discussion, must be my apology; it is, however, neither my wish nor expectation, that the preceding observations should claim any regard, except so far as they shall appear to be dictated by a good intention, consonant to the immutable rules of justice, calculated to produce a liberal system of policy, and founded on whatever experience may have been acquired by a long and close attention to public business. Here I might speak with more confidence, from my actual observations; and if it would not swell this letter (already too prolix) beyond the bounds I had prescribed myself, I could demonstrate to every mind, open to conviction, that in less time, and with much less expense than has been incurred, the war might have been brought to the same happy conclusion, if the resources of the continent could have been properly called forth; that the distresses and disappointments which have very often occurred, have, in too many instances, resulted more from a want of energy in the continental government, that a deficiency of means in the particular States; that the inefficiency of the measures, arising from the want of an adequate authority in the supreme power, from a partial compliance with the requisitions of Congress in some of the States, and from a failure of punctuality in others, while they tended to damp the zeal of those who were more willing to exert themselves, served also to accumulate the expenses of the war, and to frustrate the best concerted plans; and that the discouragement occasioned by the complicated difficulties and em.
barrassments in which our affairs were by this means involved, would have long ago produced the dissolution of any army less patient, less vir. tuous, and less persevering than that which have had the honor to command. But while I mention those things which are notorious facts, as the defects of our Federal Constitution, particularly in the prosecution of a war, I beg it may be understood, that as I have ever taken a pleasure in gratefully acknowledging the assistance and support I have derived from every class of citizens; so shall I always be happy to do justice to the unparalleled exertions of the individual States, on many interesting occasions.
I have thus freely disclosed what I wished to make known before I surrendered up my public trust to those who committed it to me; the task is now accomplished. I now bid adieu to your Excellency, as the Chief Magistrate of your State; at the same time I bid a last farewell to the cares of Office, and all the employments of public life.
It remains, then, to be my final and only request, that your Excellency will communicate these sentiments to your legislature, at their next meeting, and that they may be considered as the
legacy of one who has ardently wished, on all occasions, to be useful to his country, and who even in the shade of retirement, will not fail to implore the divine benediction upon it.
I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another; for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large; and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field; and, finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of the mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion; without an humble imitation of whose example, in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.
I have the honor to be, with much esteem and respect, Sir, your Excellency's most obedient and most humble servant,
II. THE RESIGNATION OF WASHINGTON'S COMMISSION. MR. PRESIDENT: - The great events on which have been attached to my person during the war. my resignation depended, having at length taken It was impossible the choice of confidential offiplace, I now have the honor of offering my sin- cers to compose my family should have been cere congratulations to Congress, and of present- more fortunate. Permit me, Sir, to recommend, ing myself before them, to surrender into their in particular, those who have continued in the hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the service to the present moment, as worthy of the indulgence of retiring from the service of my favorable notice and patronage of Congress. country.
I consider it as an indispensable duty, to close Happy in the confirmation of our independ- this last solemn act of my official life, by comence and sovereignty, and pleased with the op- mending the interests of our dearest country to portunity afforded the United States, of becoming the protection of Almighty God, and those who a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the have the superintendence of them, to His holy appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffi- keeping. dence in my abilities, to accomplish so arduous a Having now finished the work assigned me, I task, which, however, was superseded by a con- retire from the great theatre of action and bidfidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support ding an affectionate farewell to this august body, of the supreme power of the Union, and the pat- under whose orders I have so long acted, I here ronage of Heaven.
offer my commission, and take my leave of all The successful termination of the war has veri- the employments of public life. fied the most sanguine expectations: my grati- To this Address, the President of Congress antude for the interposition of Providence, and the swered as follows: assistance I have received from my countrymen, SIR: — The United States, in Congress assemincrease with every review of the momentous bled, receive, with emotions too affecting for contest.
utterance, the solemn resignation of the authoriWhile I respect my ligations to the army in ties under which you have led their troops with general, I should do injustice to my own feelings, success through a perilous and a doubtful war. not to acknowledge in this place, the peculiar ser- Called upon by your country, to defend its invices and distinguished merits of the persons who vaded rights, you accepted the sacred charge, be
fore it had formed alliances, and whilst it was without funds, or a government to support you. You have conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude, invariably regarding the rights of the civil power, through all disasters and changes. You have, by the love and confidence of your fellow-citizens, enabled them to display their martial genius, and transmit their fame to posterity. You have persevered, until these United States, aided by a magnanimous king and nation, have been enabled, under a just Providence, to close the war in safety, freedom, and independency; on which happy event, we sincerely join you in congratulations.
Having defended the standard of liberty in this new world; having taught a lesson useful to those who inflict, and to those who feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action, with the blessings of your fellow.citizens; but the glory
of your virtues will not terminate with your military command; it will continue to animate remotest ages.
We feel, with you, our obligations to the army in general, and will particularly charge ourselves with the interest of those confidential officers, who have attended your person to this affecting moment.
We join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching Him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens, to improve the opportunity afforded them, of becoming a happy and respectable nation; and for you, we address to Him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved, may be fostered with all His care; that your days may be happy, as they have been illustrious, and that He will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.