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While Gates was reflecting upon his embarrassed situation, Washington was fully occupied with his public duties.
In a very cogent letter written soon after the army entered winter quarters, a full view was given to Congress of its sufferings and its weakness resulting from the defective management of the commissariat. Even Lovell, hostile as he was to the commander-in-chief, acknowledges, in a private letter to General Lee, the sufficiency of his vindication :
“ The extremities of these injuries,” he wrote, “which were prophesied some months ago, are now realized in the commissariat; and we now find most of our high expectations from the expensive establishment of the quartermaster, had not a thorough foundation. General Washington has made this evident, and shows it fairly to be the clue to unravel our many seemingly mysterious past miscarriages in the field.”
It was the criminal policy of the cabal to drive Washington into measures to diminish his popularity.. He had been invested after the battle of Brandywine a second time, as previously stated, with large powers. Late in December, the legislatures of the several States were
earnestly recommended by Congress to enact laws, “appointing persons to seize and take for the use of the continental army, all the necessary articles suitable for its clothing, to empower the commissary-general to seize stock and every kind of provision necessary for it; and among other things, to limit the number of retailers of goods, who were to be compelled to take licenses and execute bonds ; providing, that no person should sell by wholesale except the importer, and then only to such licensed retailers; and that no person not licensed should be permitted to buy more than was necessary for his domestic use." A circular letter was addressed to the States expressing a “hope,” that these measures “ will be carried into execution as secretly and expeditiously as possible.”
Improbable as the execution of such arbitrary laws seemed, and remote as the aid, if any, must be derived from them, the true remedy was to correct the abuses in, and impart energy and system to the commissariat. This would offend individuals upon whom the cabal counted, and would be a public acknowledgment of one of the principal causes of the “miscarriages in the field.” It was preferred to compel Washington to the exercise of powers that must render him obnoxious. He must be left without aid from Congress or from the Board of War, to subsist his army by forcible impressments, or it must disband.
The scope of their policy was seen, and in a short letter addressed to the President of Congress on the fifth of January, in the name of the commander-in-chief, was exposed to them by Hamilton.
“ The letter you allude to from the Committee of Congress and Board of War came to hand on Saturday morning, but it does not mention the regulations adopted
for removing the difficulties and failures in the commissary line. I trust they will be vigorous or the army cannot exist. It will never answer to procure supplies of clothing or provision by coercive measures. The small seizures made of the former a few days ago, in consequence of the most pressing and absolute necessity, when that or to dissolve was the alternative, excited the greatest alarm and uneasiness, even among our best and warmest friends. Such procedures may give a momentary relief; but, if repeated, will prove of the most pernicious consequence. Beside spreading dissaffection, jealousy and fear among the people, they never fail, even in the most veteran troops, under the most rigid and exact discipline, to raise in the soldiery a disposition to licentiousness, to plunder and robbery, difficult to suppress afterwards, and which has proved not only ruinous to the inhabitants, but in many instances to armies themselves. I regret the occasion that compelled us to the measure the other day, and shall consider it among the greatest of our misfortunes if we should be under the necessity of practising it again."
A few days after, Hamilton, over Washington's signature, wrote to Congress, submitting several important questions arising as to a capture recently made by a detachment of the army, and by a party of militia, in order that “certain principles might be established to govern in the like and future cases.” On the twenty-second of January of the previous year, Washington issued a general order declaring that “such articles as are taken, not necessary for the use of the army, should be sold at public vendue, under the direction of the quarter-master-general, or of some of his deputies, for the benefit of the captors.” This order was in principle conformable with the practice of the British government. The questions propounded were, “ What articles captured are to be con
sidered as public property? Whether articles captured by parties or detachments, not determined public property, are to be distributed or sold for the benefit of the army at large, or are to be considered as the sole and exclusive right of the captors. If in general instances, such articles as are taken and which are not considered public property, are determined to be the sole and exclusive right of the captors, are stationary departments, which from their situation have much more than a chance of making prizes, to be considered upon the same footing, and if there is to be a distinction between stationary and other detachments, and the former are deemed to have an exclusive right to the captures they make, what proportion of the articles are they to have ?"
The legislation upon this subject long deferred is very incomplete, and not very liberal.
After an interval of a few days, on the tenth of January, Conway, confiding in the strength of the faction in Congress, wrote again to Washington: “I understand that your aversion to me is owing to the letter I wrote to General Gates. There is not a subaltern in Europe but what will write to his friends and acquaintances, and mention freely his opinion of the generals and of the army ; but I never heard that the least notice was taken of these letters. Must such an odious and tyrannical inquisition begin in this country? Must it be introduced by the commander-in-chief of this army raised for the defence of liberty? I cannot believe, sir, neither does any officer in your army believe, that the objection to my appointment originates from any body living but from you. Since you will not accept of my services, since you cannot bear the sight of me in your camp, I am very ready to go wherever Congress thinks proper, and even to France; and I solemnly declare, that, far from resenting
the undeserved rebuke I met with from you, I shall do every thing in my power to serve the cause."
Thus far the cabal had failed in their object. On the day of the date of this letter, a more decisive measure was resorted to, which, it was hoped, might drive Washington to resign. A resolution was passed for the appointment of a committee, to consist of three members of Congress and three members of the Board of War, to repair to head-quarters, with general powers to reorganize the army, "to recommend the necessary appointments of general officers, to remove officers in the civil departments of the army and to appoint others in their room ; to report to Congress their opinion of the necessary reinforcements and the best mode of obtaining them; to report such alterations as they should deem expedient in the regulations of the several departments; and in general, to adopt such measures as they should judge necessary for introducing economy and promoting discipline and good morals in the army.”
This committee was to act nominally in concert with Washington, but could be regarded by him in no other light than as a permanent court of inquiry into his con duct.
The members chosen were significant of its purpose, - Dana and Folsom from New England, and Reed of Pennsylvania, from Congress.-Gates, Mifflin and Pickering of the Board of War were associated with them two days after. Wilkinson was appointed secretary. Harvie was subsequently added to the committee.
As though to encourage the dissatisfaction of Pennsylvania, and to accumulate insults upon Washington, the same faction passed a resolution applauding “the rising spirit of the inhabitants” of that State to regain their capital ; declaring the readiness of Congress with all their