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Gerry, Elbridge (1744-1814) to Henry Knox

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00619 Author/Creator: Gerry, Elbridge (1744-1814) Place Written: York, Pennsylvania Type: Autograph letter Date: 7 February 1778 Pagination: 4 p. ; 32 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a Continental Congressman from Massachusetts, writes from York, where the Continental Congress was convening. Dismisses rumors of a possible plot to undermine Washington's authority, but stresses the need to guard against internal dissension within the army. Writes, "I know not ye Source of the Uneasiness which We are speaking of, but it would not be any Ways surprizing to me to find ye Enemy at ye Bottom of ye Dispute & if they did not originate it, they will certainly promote it unless ye officers of ye Army should wisely prevent it." Outlines the principles enacted by Congress for the promotion of officers. Criticizes officers who have protested the placing of foreign officers over them. Says he has "great prejudices in favour of my Countrymen..." and "will readily grant, that with ye same Degree of Experience & under similar advantages, no officer whatever will exceed them in skill & prowess; but can any person suppose that a year or two in ye service of ye United States will qualify an officer as well as ten or twenty years service in ye armies of Europe?" Gerry's retained copy with closing and signature added later by another hand, perhaps his son.

Background Information: Gerry Elbridge served as the governor of Massachusetts in 1810 and 1811 and was elected Vice President of the United States in 1812.

Full Transcript: York in Pennsylvania Feby 7. 1778
Dear Sir
I have not yet been able to make any Discoveries that can justify a Suspicion of a Plan's being formed to injure ye reputation ...of, or remove from office, ye Gentleman hinted at in your Favour of Jany ye 4th - and the Alarms that have been spread & Jealousies that are excited relative to this Matter, appear to be calculated rather to answer mischeivous then useful Purposes; at least, I fear this will be ye consequence. It is essentially necessary to ye authority of an officer, that those who are under him should have a Confidence in his abilities, & Pride in his Character; & certain it is, that those cannot long exist, where these are frequently called in question. How then can We account for such groundless rumours, at a Time when ye Character of this worthy officer is high in Congress, & when there appears to be an [struck: unanimous] Intention of ye Members to support him, but by considering them as ye Effects of a party Spirit that is dangerous to ye Cause in which We are engaged. I am exceedingly distressed at ye Dissentions that [inserted: begin to] prevail in ye Army, they augur ill, & Whilst [inserted: un]corrected are of themselves sufficient to reverse our affairs. I know your firm attachment to ye Cause, & express myself without Reserve, that we may cooperate in preventing an Evil that has frequently involved in Ruin mighty Empires; an Evil, that if not timely prevented, cannot be remedied. [2] How frequently do We find in History, that an artful General has spared no pains or Expense to accomplish such purposes in ye [inserted: Camp of his adversa] [strikeout] & when We consider, that We are at War with a Nation which for Centuries past has been trained to ye Business, that our former Connections [inserted: with [struck: them] her] expose us to Danger from Intrigues, which otherwise could not be carried into Effect. Surely too much Caution cannot be used to guard against internal Dissentions. I know not ye Source of the Uneasiness which We [inserted: are] speaking of, [struck: and being a friend to both parties shall for ye interest of my Country side with neither] but it would not be any Ways surprizing to me to find ye Enemy at ye Bottom of ye Dispute & if they did not originate it, they will certainly promote it unless ye officers of ye Army
should wisely prevent it. The Disputes relative to rank have probably had some share in [strikeout] exciting this Spirit, but here I must condemn [struck: a great part of] [inserted: some of the] officers in opposing a constitutional Exercise of ye authority of Congress. A Resolution was after ye most mature Deliberation entered into in Feby [struck: last] 1777 to appoint General officers upon three principles, which respected their former rank, [inserted: their] merit, & ye proportion of Troops raised by the States to which they severally belonged. This was necessary to give satisfaction to ye states, was considered as a wise & politick measure, & I have reason to beleive will be invariably pursued at all Events. but what has been ye consequence of every appointment of general officers made by Congress? if it did not suit ye whole army, opposition has taken place, & reduced Congress [3] to ye necessity of asserting their rights, [inserted: of themselves & their Constituents], or consenting to give them up in a manner that would sap ye Foundation of Liberty. I have ever tho't that [struck] [inserted: such an opposition] has been ye Effect of Inadvertance, & of not recurring to first principles, but ye Injury which ye civil Liberties, of America derive therefrom is ye same as if a premeditated attack had been made against them. It appears to me that ye Army have generally mistaken Notions of Honor, when they suppose that a [inserted: foreign] officer of great Experience cannot be introduced to high rank without disgracing all below him. I have as great prejudices in favour of my Countrymen as any person, perhaps on Earth; And will readily grant, that with ye same Degree of Experience & under similar advantages, no officer whatever will exceed them in skill & prowess; but can any person suppose that a year or two in ye service of ye United States will qualify an officer as well as ten or twenty years service in ye [struck: War] [inserted: armies] of Europe? & has not our Cause been almost ruined, does it not at this instant suffer greatly from ye Want of experienced officers. [struck: to introduce Discipline into ye Army]? under these Circumstances then is it not evident, that ye Honor of an officer who readily consents to promote ye service of his Country by giving place to Experience, is [struck: is infinitely highly pre] established; whilst those who oppose this, do it at ye Expense of their reputation.
I know of no Promotions of any Consequence by Congress that [4] that have not been made on ye purest Principles, & a full Conviction [strikeout] of Merit in ye officer appointed; but such are ye prejudices of each Person in Favour of himself that it rarely happens [struck: that] when he exercises a Judgment in his own cause, that he can divert himself of Partiality in every Respect, whence ye Necessity of Decisions [strikeout] in all Cases of a legal [inserted: or publick] Nature by disinterested persons.
Your friend & Humb svt
E Gerry
General Knox.
See More

People: Gerry, Elbridge, 1744-1814
Knox, Henry, 1750-1806

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: Continental ArmyRevolutionary WarPresidentMutinyMilitary HistoryGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyCongressImmigration and MigrationConway CabalVice President

Sub Era: The War for Independence

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