Recipient: Knox, Henry
John Adams to Henry Knox
[dateline] Philadelphia September 29. 1776
[salute] Dear Sir
This Evening I had the Pleasure of your's, of the 25th.... I have only to ask you, whether it would be agreable to you, to have Austin made your Lieutenant Colonel? Let me know sincerely, for I will never propose it without your Approbation.
I agree with you that there is nothing of the vast, in the Characters of the Ennemy's General or Admiral.... But I differ in Opinion from you, when you think, that if there had been, they would have Annihilated your Army.... It is very true, that a silly Panick has been spread in your Army and from thence even to Philadelphia. But Hannibal spread as great a Panick, once, at Rome, without daring to take Advantage of it.... If he had, his own Army would have been annihilated: and he knew it. A Panick in an Army when pushed to desperation, becomes Heroism.
However, I despize that Panick and those who have been infected with it, and I could almost consent that the good old Roman fashion of decimation should be introduced. The Legion, which ran away, had the name of every Man in it, put into a Box, and then drawn out, and every tenth Man was put to death. The terror of this Uncertainty, whose Lot it would be to die, restrained the whole in the time of danger from indulging their fears.
Pray tell me, Colonel Knox, does every Man to the Southward of Hudsons River, behave like an Hero, and every Man to the Northward of it, like a Poltroon, or not? The Rumours, Reports and Letters which come here upon every Occasion, represent the New England Troops, as Cowards, running away perpetually, and the Southern Troops as standing bravely. I wish I could know, whether it is true. I want to know for the Government of my own Conduct, because, if the New Englandmen are a Pack of Cowards, I would resign my place in Congress, where I should not choose to represent Poltroons, and re•
move to some Southern Colony, where I could enjoy the Society of Heros, and have a chance of learning some time or other, to be part of an Hero myself.... I must say, that your Amiable General gives too much Occasion for these reports by his Letters, in which he often mentions things to the disadvantage of some part of New England, but seldom any thing of the Kind about any other Part of the Continent.7
You complain of the popular Plan of raising the new Army. But if you make the plan as unpopular, as you please, you will not mend the matter. If you leave the Appointment of Officers to the General, or to the Congress, it will not be so well done, as if left to the Assemblies. The true cause of the Want of good Officers in the Army is not, because the Appointment is left to the Assemblies, but because such officers in sufficient Numbers are not in America. Without materials the best Workmen can do nothing. Time, Study and Experience alone, must make a sufficient number of able Officers.
I wish We had a military Accademy, and should be obliged to you for a Plan of such an Institution. The Expence would be a trifle, no object at all, with me.8