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Unknown to the Officers of the Army [The Newburgh Conspiracy]

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.01994 Author/Creator: Unknown Place Written: s.l. Type: Manuscript letter Date: 10 March 1783 Pagination: 3 p. : docket ; 33.4 x 20.8 cm. Order a Copy

Written in the hand of Samuel Shaw, this is Henry Knox's copy, and is docketed by Knox. An anonymous address to the officers of the Army, along with a call for a general meeting of officers. This particular copy was sent to the officers at West Point. Gives high-minded praise to the troops, extolling their virtue, bravery, and patriotism -- but then transitions into an emotional-laden section about America's inability to provide for them after the war is over. Says "If this then be your treatment, while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America - what have you to expect from peace - when your voice shall sink and your strength dissipate by division?" Makes a reference to "the plain coat of republicanism" (the contemporary use of this word in writing was somewhat rare in the 18th century). Wants them to come together and make a decision about what they are willing to accept and what they are willing to do to get it. Tells them "Let two or three men, who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw up your last remonstrance." Says that they need to start applying more pressure to Congress and should refuse to disarm until their situation is rectified. Postscript says there is a meeting of general and field officers at 10 a.m. next Tuesday to discuss the report of the committee sent to Philadelphia to air their grievances. Says an officer from each company is expected to attend. Docket in Knox's hand.

This unsigned letter (as well as others written in subsequent days) are thought to have been composed by General Horatio Gates's aide-de-camp Major John Armstrong, Jr., although he denied this.

To the Officers of the Army.
A fellow soldier, whose interest and affections bind him strongly to you, whose past sufferings have been as great, and whose future fortunes may be as desperate as yours, - would beg leave to address you.
Age has its claims, and rank is not without its pretensions to advise - but though unsupported by both, he flatters himself, that the plain language of sincerity and experience will neither be unheard nor unregarded. -
Like many of you, he loved private life, and left it with regret. He left it, determined to retire from the field, with the necessity that called him to it - and not till then. - not till the enemies of his country, the slaves of power, and the hirelings of injustice, were compelled to abandon their schemes and acknowledge America as terrible in arms as she had been humble in remonstrance. With this object in view, he has long shared in your toils, and mingled in your dangers - he has felt the cold hand of poverty without a murmur, and has seen the insolence of wealth without a sigh. But, too much under the direction of his wishes, and sometimes weak enough to mistake desire for opinion, he has till lately, very lately, believed in the justice of his country. He hoped, that as the clouds of adversity scattered, and the sunshine of peace and better fortune broke in upon us - the coldness and severity of government would relax, and that more than justice, - that gratitude would blaze forth upon those hands, which had upheld her in the darkest stages of her passage, from impending servitude to acknowledged independence - But faith has its limits as well as temper - and there are points beyond which neither can be stretched, without sinking into cowardice or plunging into credulity. This, my friends, I conceive to be your situation. - hurried to the very verge of both, another step would ruin you forever. To be tame and unprovoked while injuries press hard upon you - is more than weakness. But to look up for kinder usage without one manly effort of your own - would fix your character and shew the world how richly you deserve the chains you broke. To guard against this evil, let us take a view of the ground upon which we now stand - and from thence, carry our thoughts forward for a moment, into the unexplained field of expedient. - After a pursuit of seven [inserted: long] years, the object for which we set out is at length brought within our reach - Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours, was active once - it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war - It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace returns again - to bless - whom? a country willing to redress your wrongs - cherish your [2] worth - and reward your services? A country - courting your return to private life, with tears of gratitude and smiles of admiration - longing to divide with you that independency, which your gallantry has given, and those riches, which your wounds have preserved? Is this the case - or is it rather a country, that tramples upon your rights - disdains your cries and insults your distresses? Have you not more than once suggested your wishes and made known your wants to Congress (wants and wishes which policy and justice should have anticipated rather than evaded) - And have you not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorial, begged from their justice, what you could no longer expect from their favor. How have you been answered? Let the letter which you are called to consider tomorrow - make the reply - If this, then, be your treatment, while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America - what have you to expect from peace - when your voice shall sink and your strength dissipate by division? When those very swords, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of military distinction left - but your wants, infirmities, and fears? Can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity - which has hitherto been spent in honor? If you can - go and carry with you the jest of tories and the scorn of whigs - the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world - go - starve, and be forgotten - But if your spirit should recoil at this, if you have sense enough to discover and spirit sufficient to oppose tyranny, under whatever garb it may assume - whether it be the plain coat of republicanism, or the splendid robe of royalty - If you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a cause - between men and principles - Awake - attend your situation and redress yourselves. If the present moment be lost, every future effort is in vain - Your threats then - will be as empty as your entreaties now. I would advise you therefore to come to some final opinion of what you can bear and what you will suffer - If your determination be in any proportion to your wrongs -carry your appeal from the justice to the fears of government - change the milk and water stile of your last memorial - assume a bolder tone, decent but lively, spirited and determined - and suspect the man who will advise to more moderation [3] and longer forbearance - Let two or three men, who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw up your last remonstrance (for I would no longer give it the suing, soft, unsuccessful epithet of memorial). Let it represent, in language that will neither dishonor you by its rudeness, nor betray you by its fears - what has been promised by Congress, and what has been performed - How long and how patiently you have suffered - How little you have asked, and how much of that little has been denied - Tell them that, though you were the first, and would wish to be the last to encounter danger - that though despair itself can never drive you into dishonor - it may drive you from the field - That, the wound often irritated and never healed - may at length become incurable, and that the slightest mark of indignity from Congress now - must operate like the grave, and part you forever - that, in any political event, the Army has its alternative - if Peace, that nothing shall separate you from your arms but Death - if War - that courting auspices and inviting the direction of your illustrious leader - you will retire to some yet unsettled country - smile in your turn, and "mock, when their fear cometh on" - But let it represent also, that should they comply with the request of your late memorial, it would make you more happy and them more respectable - that, while the war should continue, you would follow their standard in the field - and that when it came to an end, you would withdraw into the shade of private life, - and give the world another subject of wonder and applause - an Army victorious over its enemies - victorious over itself.
I am, &c.
- A meeting of the general and field officers is requested to attend at the public
building - at 10 o'clock on Tuesday next. An officer from each company is also expected, and one or more representatives from the medical and other staff. The object of this meeting is to consider the late report from our commissioners in Philadelphia, and what farther measures should be taken to obtain that redress which they seem to have solicited in vain.
Saturday, 8 March.
- Gentlemen, Enclosed you have a copy of two important papers - the
one an invitation to a general meeting of the army - the other a very serious address upon what will probably be the subjects of our discussion. Your countenance, support and attendance on tomorrow are requested.
The Officers of West Point. (Superscribed to Colonels Crane, Webb & Huntington)
Yours Sincerely An Officer.
Monday 10 March -
an Address to the officers of
the Army by an anonymous
writer, 10 March 1783

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