Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

McDougall, Alexander (1732-1786) to Henry Knox

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 #: GLC02437.01959 Author/Creator: McDougall, Alexander (1732-1786) Place Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 27 February 1783 Pagination: 3 p. : address : docket ; 24.2 x 18.2 cm.

Summary of Content: Written by General McDougall under the alias "Brutus" to Major General Knox, lamenting Congress's refusal to pay the army and fund pensions for the officers. Says the motion was declined by Congress "for fear the States would consider it a design in Congress to Establish a Force to awe the States. What conduct will be taken towards the Army on a pace is now very uncertain." Says Congress is fearful that the army might take justice into its own hands. Reports "I should not be surprised if an attempt is soon made to split the Army into detachments to prevent their being formidable." Believes that if this happens, half-pay will not be given. Says the states are more concerned about paying down their debts than funding pensions. Says only 7 states can relied upon for the measure. Says that New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New Jersey are against it, while Georgia is not represented, Delaware has new delegates, and Maryland is only offering questionable support. Says the goal is to divide the army to avoid making large payments. Says he does not know what type of advice to offer at this point. Mentions the King's speech, but says all other references to peace are vague and contradictory. Claims the balance of evidence is for peace though. Says many letters have recently been miscarried. Stamped "FREE'" on address leaf.

Background Information: For information on the identity of Brutus see Richard H. Kohn, "The Inside History of the Newburgh Conspiracy: America and the Coup d'Etat," William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 2 (April 1970), 187...-220. A footnote on page 197 says that Mary-Jo Kline noted that McDougall tried to mask his handwriting in the body of the letter, but not in the address leaf. She compared it to another McDougall letter, which is now GLC02437.01933, to identity the writer. She could have also noted that both letters use the same slightly blue-tinted paper.See More

Full Transcript: [draft]
Dr Sir Phia 27th Feby 1783

The motion I wrote you in my last which was in [contemplation] to [inserted: be] made, is declined, for fear the state would consider ...it as a design in congress to Establish a Force to [awe] the States. What conduct will be taken towards the Army on a peace is now very uncertain.
The fears of Congress are awake, least the Army should declare to hold their arms, till Justice is done to them. - I should not be surprised if an attempt is soon made to split the Army into detachments to prevent their being formidable.
If this is accomplished, they must give up all expectation of any consideration for their half pay, if not for all other dues; for there is too great a propensity in the states to cancel all the Public debts on a Peace, Especially those due to their own people, who cannot compel a payment
or
[2] or security - Georgia is still unrepresented and its uncertain when it will; - Delaware has elected new Delegates, but they have not appeared in Congress - Maryland is represented and as I hoped, is for the Commutation. but we cannot rely on More than seven states for the Measure. New Hampshire R Island and Jersey are decidedly against the Commutation, and with Connecticut discover a strong inclination to refer their lines to their respective states without even a decision of Congress on the equivalent for the half Pay - Their object is to divide the Army, and to compel the officers by their distresses to commute for a [trifle] while [struck: ther] [inserted: their] states will be authorized to charge the U States with the [Full] half pay or Compensation reported by the committee. [inserted in the right hand column: There was some hope that Jersey would be for the Army by one of its members going off, at this period, and [anothers] coming up, who would be for a liberal commutation, but he has resigned and the Vote of that State will now be devided.] This is a short state of your prospect here. I wish much to hear from the Army, for as I don't know their present temper, it would be improper to advise them what measures they ought to
take
[3] take to obtain justice. The [Kings] speech is all the advice received on which any relyance can be placed; all others are vague and contradictory. But the Ballance of evidence is Clear in favor of Peace.
I am Dear Sir, your affectionate Brutus.
P S your Letters to me ought to be put into carful hands, for I have received none from you, and
from others have miscarried.
[address leaf]
Major General Knox
Commanding at
West Point.
[docket]
From Brutus 27 Feby 1783
See More

People:

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: Newburgh ConspiracyRevolutionary WarRevolutionary War GeneralMilitary HistoryContinental ArmyContinental CongressCongressSoldier's PayFinancePensionsPetitionGovernment and CivicsMutinyRebellionDebtEconomicsGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyTreaty

Sub Era:

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources