Papers of John Adams, volume 4

To William Heath

To Samuel Holden Parsons

To Daniel Hitchcock, 3 August 1776 JA Hitchcock, Daniel To Daniel Hitchcock, 3 August 1776 Adams, John Hitchcock, Daniel
To Daniel Hitchcock
Sir Philadelphia August. 3. 1776

Your obliging Favour of the 22, Ultimo came duely to Hand, and I thank you for it. A free Correspondence between the Members of 428Congress and the Officers of the Army, will probably be attended with Advantages to the public by improving both the Councils and Arms of America.

The Burthen of contracting for Cloaths, Arms, and Accoutrements, for the Regiments ought not to lie upon the Collonells. A Paymaster for each Regiment has been ordered by Congress,1 and if this Officer is not enough, if a Representation, was made of it, another would be appointed. But I suppose a Paymaster would answer all the Purposes, if not be so good as to point out to me, what other Regulation is needfull.

There is Some Ground for your Observation, that Officers are advanced faster to Posts of Honour, to the Southward than Northward. But I cannot think that the Instance you have mentioned, is a Proof of it, or that in that Case the Promotions were exceptionable. You Say that every one, who was Collonell there last year, has been this year made a General. This in two illustrious Instances, Henry and Gadsden did not hold,2 But in the other Cases it was not Wrong. Mercer, Lewis, More, and How, were not only Men of Fortune, and Figure, in their Countries, and in civil Imployments, but they were all, veteran Soldiers, and had been Collonells, in a former War.3 It is true, their Provincial Legislatures had made them only Collonells last year, and the Reason was because they only raised Regiments, not Brigades. But as soon as those Colonies came to raise Brigades, it was but reasonable, these Officers should be appointed Brigadeers. These Officers stood in the Light of Thomas, Fry, Whitcomb, Putnam, &c. &c. with this difference, that the Gentlemen themselves were Superiour in Point of Property and Education. Besides, it has been our constant Endeavour, that each State should have, a reasonable Number of General Officers in Proportion to the Number of Troops they raise. It should be considered that We have constituents to Satisfy as well as the Army, and Colonies to rank, as well as Collonells, and Generals. Massachusetts has most Cause of Complaint upon this Head. That there have not been many Promotions of Collonells to the Northward, is true. But how can it be avoided. If I were left to myself, to my Judgment and Inclination, I should not hesitate a Moment. But, We must not deviate from the Line of succession. If We do, We are threatened with Disgusts and Resignations. And how can We follow the Line? Wooster, Heath and Spencer, ought to be made Major Generals in my Opinion. But Is this the Opinion of the Army?

Reed, Nixon, Prescott and others, the oldest Collonells, and veteran soldiers and undoubtedly the bravest of brave Officers. But, there is 429not one Gentleman in this Congress, I believe who knows the Face of any one of them except the last—or that ever received a Letter from any one of them.4 What are their Educations, their Abilities, their Knowledge of the World, their sentiments? Have they that Authority and Command, which a General Officer ought to have, and which is so essential to the Discipline of an Army, upon which according to the K. of Prussia the intire Prosperity of every State depends.

My own opinion is, that it is Safest to promote these Officers in Succession, but I fear it will never be done. It never will unless the General recommends it, and I dont believe he will do it. Besides the Colonies want and will have their shares of Generals, except the Massachusetts.

Such is the Nature of Mankind in Society, especially in Armies, that I believe it is best to pursue the Line of succession in Promotions excepting extraordinary Cases of Merit and Demerit. But if it would not occasion Confusion, I think a General Officer ought to be a Man of Letters, Taste and sense, and therefore Parsons, Varnum,5 Hitchcock, and others of the like Character would certainly have my Vote. But then you know that old Officers, would tare up the Ground, if such youths, and inexperienced People, as they would express themselves were put over their Heads.

I have written with great Freedom, in Confidence that no ill use will be made of it. I wish your sentiments upon these subjects with the Same Candor.

The Affair of the Bounty, has given me Uneasiness enough to no Purpose. I see We shall never get a regular, permanent Army, but must go on patching up an Army every 3 Months, with fresh Militia, at double the Expence. Reason and Experience are Sometimes lost upon the Wisest and the best of Men who have been accustomed to be governed by Caprice.6

LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “Sent.”


See S. H. Parsons to JA, 7 July, note 2 (above).


Patrick Henry and Christopher Gadsden, the latter being promoted to brigadier general on 16 Sept. (Heitman, Register Continental Army , p. 286, 240).


Hugh Mercer (ca. 1725–1777), Pennsylvania physician, was promoted during the French and Indian War to colonel of the third battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiment. He was commandant of Fort Pitt after the capture of Fort Duquesne. A friend of Washington, he moved to Fredericksburg, Va., after the war and returned to the practice of medicine. Early in the Revolution he was named colonel of the 3d Virginia Regiment. Andrew Lewis (1720–1781), of Botetourt co., Va., a well-to-do planter, had fought in the French and Indian War but achieved fame for his victory over the Indians at Point Pleasant in 1774, which was significant in pacifying the frontier for the early years of the Revolution. James 430Moore (1737–1777), of New Hanover co., N.C., was a captain in the French and Indian War, for some years a member of the colonial legislature, and a prominent Son of Liberty. When Gov. Tryon marched against the Regulators, Moore went as a colonel of artillery, but he was an adamant opponent of Great Britain. He served on his county's committee of safety and sat in the Third Provincial Congress, which appointed him colonel of the 1st North Carolina Regiment. Robert Howe (1732–1786), a wealthy North Carolina rice planter, served for some years in the colonial assembly. He went on Gov. Tryon's expedition as a colonel of artillery. With the outbreak of the Revolution he sat in the provincial congresses. In 1775 he was appointed colonel of the 2d North Carolina Regiment (all four men in DAB ).


James Reed, John Nixon, and William Prescott had been named on 1 Jan. 1776 colonels of the 2d, 4th, and 7th Continental Infantry regiments, respectively. Prescott, of course, was a hero at Bunker Hill. Reed and Nixon were named brigadier generals on 9 Aug. (Heitman, Register Continental Army , p. 461, 414, 452).


James Mitchell Varnum (1748–1789), lawyer, friend of Nathanael Greene, and colonel of the 9th Continental Infantry. He became a Continental brigadier general in Feb. 1777 ( DAB ).


In place of the canceled clause JA interlined “the Wisest and the best of.”