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General Lee to James Bowdoin



Camp Croton Pond, November 30, 1776.

DEAR SIR: The affairs of America are in a more alarming situation every day. The enemy have passed the Passaic; unless, therefore, the New-England Provinces exert themselves not only vigorously, but essentially, we are lost. General Washington has ordered me with the Continental troops over the river. This measure may be necessary for the safety of the Jerseys, or perhaps even for Philadelphia, but the hardships that the men must encounter at this season of the year will, I apprehend, prevent very considerably, if not entirely, the recruiting the new Army; and unless an Army is formed, and immediately, you must submit to the yoke prepared. If this Army cannot be formed in the mode proposed, by volunteers, which at best is a very bad mode, it follows that some other must be adopted. The scheme that I would propose is what ought to have pointed itself out at first; it is that which all countries have adopted; for when the soldiers of a community are composed of volunteers, war becomes quite a distinct profession. The arms of a Republic gets into the hands of its worst members. Volunteers being composed in general of the most idle, vicious, and dissolute part of every society, the usual catastrophe is, that they become the tools of some General more artful than the rest, and finally turn the arms put into their hands for the defence


of their country, against their country' s bosom. This has and must be the fate of every people who have not wisdom enough to make, and virtue enough to submit to, laws which oblige every citizen to serve in his turn as a soldier. It may be answered that your Militia is established on this principle. But your Militia, from the incompetency of their officers, or some other vice in its constitution, manifestly does not answer the purposes. I would therefore take the liberty to propose, as the Army will probably not be raised by volunteers, and as an Army so composed is at best a very dangerous remedy, that you should fill your regiments by drafts from your Militia. Let every seventh man be obliged to serve in the regular regiments for one year, and you will have an Army immediately, excellent in all respects, formidable against the external enemy, and less dangerous to their fellow-citizens.

I hope to God your Governments have energy sufficient to accomplish the point; and I hope your gentlemen of the first distinction and property have patriotism to lead the way in submitting to so necessary and wholesome a regulation. If you have not, there are only two things left to your choice: either to call in the troops of France and Spain, or submit unconditionally to the tyranny of Britain. If your gentlemen lead the way in cheerfully obeying the summons of their country, I am myself persuaded the people will cheerfully follow. For God' s sake, sir, convince them of the necessity. Suffer not a spark of whatever virtue amongst you to be latent. Now is the time to call it all into action.

In this pious work, that God Almighty may assist you, is the most fervent prayer of one who is, dear sir, most truly yours


To the Honourable James Bowdoin.

N˙B. Our want of blankets and stores is every day more crying. I would be much obliged to you, as this scheme will be applicable to New-Hampshire, to send them a copy.