Washington’s Commission as Commander-in-Chief

Washington’s Commission at the Library of Congress

QUICK FACTS
  • General Washington resigns his commission to Congress in Baltimore on 23-Dec-1783.
  • He returns the original parchment (received 19-Jun-1775) appointing him Commander-in-Chief.
LINKS

In Congress

The delegates of the United Colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Counties of New-Castle, Kent, and Sussex, on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, & South Carolina

To George Washington Esquire

     We, reposing special trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct, and fidelity   Do by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be General and Commander in chief of the army of the United Colonies and of all the forces now raised[,] or to be raised by them[,] and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their service and join the said Army for the defence of American liberty and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof   And you are hereby vested with full power and authority to act as you shall think for the good and welfare of the service.

     And we do hereby strictly charge and require all Officers and Soldiers under your command to be obedient to your orders and diligent in the exercise of their several duties.

     And we do also enjoin and require you to be careful in executing the great trust reposed in you[,] by causing strict discipline and order to be observed in the army[,] and that the soldiers be duly exercised and provided with all convenient necessaries.

     And you are to regulate your conduct in every respect by the rules and discipline of war (as herewith given you) and punctually to observe and follow such orders and directions[,] from time to time[,] as you shall receive from this[,] or a future Congress of these United Colonies[,] or committee of Congress.

     This commission to continue in force until revoked by this or a future Congress.

By Order of the Congress           John Hancock   President
Dated Philadelphia June 19, 1775.            Attest. Cha[rles] Thomson, Sec[retar]y

There is a symmetry between the folly of Burgoyne’s march south to Saratoga and that of Cornwallis’s march north to Yorktown. Military historians debate why Burgoyne risked marching south from Fort Edward in the same way that they question why Cornwallis advanced north beyond North Carolina into Virginia. Although Cornwallis had none of the outward vanity of Burgoyne, the two men were similar in that they were both junior generals and neither of them was commander in chief of the British army in America. Both blamed their subsequent failures on rigid orders and insufficient latitude. They both expected to march through predominantly friendly territory. They both ignored the chain of command and went over the heads of their superiors to communicate independently with Lord George Germain. They both allowed their supply lines to become overextended and their forces suffered harassment by enemy militia. They presided over the two most decisive defeats of the American Revolutionary War.

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy
The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (2013)