Shaw, Samuel (1754-1794) [Circular address to the New England states]
High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.
Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.00847 Author/Creator: Shaw, Samuel (1754-1794) Place Written: Tappan, New York Type: Autograph document Date: 7 October 1780 Pagination: 5 p. : docket ; 33.5 x 21.5 cm.
Entirely in Shaw's hand, including signatures. Expresses their unhappiness over bad conditions of officers in the army, particularly in the New England states. Concerns center on overly long terms of service, jealousy and lack of respect among subordinates and the general population, and the small income which does not allow them to sufficiently support their families. States that "[t]he war appears to us as far from an honorable issue as it has ever done."
The underwritten, General Officers of the New England lines, think it our duty to unite in a serious address to the several states to which we belong, to represent the distressing condition of their officers in the Army.
After having joined our brother officers of the line at large, in two ineffectual applications to Congress on the subject, nothing but the purest regard for the safety of the Country could impel us to undertake a third essay of this kind.
We beg leave to premise that a large proportion of the officers engaged in service with an intention of making one campaign only. Neither they nor their Country, thought of their becoming soldiers for life, or a lengthy war. Their inclinations, constitutions, and circumstances forbid it. But from a conviction that their growing experience was of value and importance to the cause, they have been induced, against every consideration of a private nature, to extend their services from one period to another; constantly flattering themselves, that every new campaign would be the last, and bring about the wished for era of their return to the bosoms of the families and friends.
The perseverance of the Army, under wants and hardships, excited the administration and applause of the Country, until the personal and family distresses of the former constrained them to remind their fellow citizens of the want, on their part, of equitable and grateful returns.
From that time, many have fained to entertain groundless and impolitic jealousies of the army. Some have even charged the officers with acquiring wealth, and aspiring after honors and distinctions, at the very time when it has required all the persuasion; within the compass of language and argument, to retain them in service.
A laudable pride, arising from a just sense  sense of the real dignity of the employments and stations; an ambition of excelling; which has been esteemed by all wise nations, as a passion, amiable in itself, and essential to the authority that is necessary in every well constituted army, have rendered the officers of our Army opprobrious to too many in civil life - some of whom, and even those in power, we fear, have labored to counteract and debase the principle, by denying the officers, not only a suitable provision to maintain their character, but by leaving [inserted: them to want] the necessaries of food and clothing.
The officers are sensible of the public embarrassments; they have been attentive to the administration of civil as well as military affairs, and forward in suggesting their thoughts on every proper occasion, with an honest zeal of promoting the welfare of the army and state. They do not look for impossibilities from government - but they wish to see that effusion of a liberal heart which it is possible to exhibit in a state of poverty. Generosity is the characteristic of a soldier. For the love of his country, he lavishes health and life, for which no equivalent can be given him. Should he not then be spared the mortification of receiving his pittance from a reluctant hand!
The present incomes of the majority of the people who bear the burden of the public charges, are proportioned to the increased prices of the necessaries of life. If it is objected, that those who subsist by fixed salaries, or by the interest of their money, or have been ravaged by the enemy; are as great sharers as the Army, in the common calamity, if argues perhaps no more than that they ought to be favored by some exemption, or that those who have suffered less should contribute to indemnify them.
Was the case and circumstances of the officers of the Army fully understood by the people at large we are persuaded their wisdom and sensibility would render their situation eligible and happy as possible. The
The war appears to us as far from an honorable issue as it has ever done. Our Allies, however generous their intentions, have not been able to give the expected assistance. Perhaps, Providence by respected disappointments from this quarter, designs to convince us, that our help and salvation is, under God, to be derived from our exertions.
There is no ground of hope that the enemy will relinquish their object 'till they find the Country prepared to defend itself; That is, till they see an Army opposed to them as regular as their own, and on as permanent a basis. Our present condition promises them the speedy accomplishment of their wishes - An army consisting of a inadequate thousands, almost destitute of every public supply - its officers, whose tables, once abounded with plenty and variety, subsisting month after month on one bare ration of bread and meat, and that frequently of the meanest quality, with but a triffle of clothing and pay - their families looking up to them for their usual support - their children for that education to which they once had a title. - Our enemies know human nature too well to apprehend they shall have to contend long with an army under such circumstances.
In faithfulness to our Country, we make this representation, without the sollicitation [sic] or knowledge of those officers who are the chief subject of it. They, we are assured, are generally determined to resign their commissions at the close of this campaign. Indeed it is impossible for them to continue, let their virtue and inclination be ever be great - and we cannot but express to you, that we shall consider the loss of the present body of officers as little short of the dissolution of the Army.
If the Country is competent to its defence without a regular Army, no more need be said on the subject, Let our progress, as it does, to  to its dissolution. But, on the other hand, if an Army well appointed and provided, is absolutely necessary, the subjects of it must be made easy and contented with their situation. (reasonable things will satisfy them). The officers have, we conceive, a just claim to handsome support for the time present, and to be secure of an after provision to compensate for the loss of business, and to enable them when the war is over to live among their brethren above contempt - Without this provision, a pitiful penury, if not want and misery must unavoidably be the portion of men who have faithfully discharged their duty as officers and citizens.
The wages and rations of the officers, if paid in specie, must less in notes, [struck: is] [inserted: are] by no means sufficient to support them, with decency and comfort to themselves, and advantage to the service. The necessaries and conveniences of life are raised to two or three times their former prices in specie, and as to the depreciation notes, (so called they do not in fact sell for one third their nominal value.)
It is our opinion, that nothing less than the nominal sum of the wages and rations, made good, from time to time, in its relative value to the property of the Country, will or ought to be satisfactory. This has been done for the New York line; and as to a future provision, ours ask no more than what the last mentioned state, and the southern states, have done or may do for their respective lines, serving in the same Army with them.
If it should be thought best to vary the mode of payment, there will be no objection; a sum in gross will be more agreeable and advantageous to the Eastern officers, and more consonant to the sentiments prevailing in their States than an annuity unaccompanied with services. and here we cannot omit to mention that some states seem to be taking measures in order to attach to themselves the affections of their own troops. With what views it is done, we know not, but shouts suppose that familiar motive to the same line of conduct must exist in every State.
 We beg leave to add, as a measure of propriety, that a reasonable consideration be paid to officers who, thro' want of health, shall be obliged to retire before the end of the war.
(signed) N. Greene MGen
L.H. Parsons, B.G. HKnox, B.Gen.
J. Huntington, BG. J.Glover B.G.
J. Stark B.G. J. Patterson B.G.
Camp at Tappan
7 Octo 1780. (Duplicate, 10th Nov.)
Circular Address to the
New England States
Octo 7 1780.
(Duplicate 10 Nov. 1780)
The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specific conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” that user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law.