Newburgh Address, 15 March 1783
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The Newburgh Address, shown here in George Washington's hand, was delivered on 15 March 1783 in an attempt to quell a revolt within the officer corps over the issue of payment for their service.
Stirrings of Revolt
In the waning months of the Revolutionary War, when the army was restlessly ensconced in winter quarters at Newburgh, New York, the officers, long unpaid and apprehensive about arrearages, retirement pay, and other well-deserved concessions denied them by Congress, teetered for a moment on the brink of open revolt against the country and government for which they had fought so hard and long. For quite some time, Congress had been indifferent to General Washington's pleas on behalf of his unpaid men. In March of 1783, an unofficial meeting of the officers was called, and an anonymous paper (later attributed to Major John Armstrong) was circulated, urging the officers to demand concessions from Congress, rather than ask as they had in the past, with the implied threat that if their demands were not satisfied they would compel Congress to accede to them. Alarmed by these developments, Washington took charge, cancelling the unofficial meeting and calling an official one for 15 March.
Washington Entreats his Officers
As he began his address, Washington paused, donned his eyeglasses and "begged the indulgence of his audience while he put them on, observing at the same time, that he had grown gray in their service and now felt himself going blind." Despite its simplicity, the address was presented with great feeling and empathy; Washington exhorted his men to remain loyal and obedient, appealed to their patriotism, and offered his support for their cause. Afterwards, the officers unanimously adopted a number of resolutions, including "That the army continue to have an unshaken confidence in the justice of Congress and their Country ...; that His Excellency the Commander in Chief be requested to write to His Excellency the President of Congress, earnestly entreating the most speedy decision of that honorable body ...; that the officers of the American army view with abhorrence, and reject with disdain the infamous propositions contained in a late anonymous address ..."
Special Event: George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters
On Friday, 15 February 2008, at noon, Professor Edward G. Lengel will discuss his newest book, This Glorious Struggle: George Washington's Revolutionary War Letters. The book, which provides a selection of Washington's most interesting and informative Revolutionary War letters, also includes maps, illustrations, and a foreword by Joseph Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington. Edward Lengel is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia and associate editor of The Papers of George Washington. This event is free and open to the public, please call 617-646-0560 to RSVP.
Sources for Further Reading
Witness to America's Past. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1991.