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Letter from John Adams to General Heath



Philadelphia, August 3, 1776.

DEAR SIR: Yours of the 20th ultimo is before me. I am much obliged to you for it, and most heartily wish for a more free and intimate communication of sentiments upon the state both of our Councils and arms. I should be happy in a few hours' conversation; but as this cannot be, I must be content with a letter.

We have now a nation to protect and defend; and I can easily see the propriety of the observations you quote from the Prussian Hero, that the prosperity of a State depends upon the discipline of its Army. This discipline reared the Roman empire and the British; and the American will stand or fall, in my opinion, as it adheres to or deviates from the same discipline. If there is not wisdom and vigour enough in the civil Government to support the military officers in introducing and establishing such a discipline, it must be owing to the advantages of soil and climate and our extreme distance from our enemies, not to our own strength, virtue, or wisdom, if we do not fail.

The Army must be well officered, armed, disciplined, fed, clothed, covered, and paid; in these respects, we do as well as we can. Time, I hope, will assist us; and every officer of the Army would do well to suggest to his friends and correspondents in Congress and in the Legislatures of the several States every defect and every improvement in those particulars which occurs to him. I am in more anxiety for clothes and tents than anything, because the health as well as the discipline of the Army depends much upon them.

We shall never do well until we get a regular Army; and this will never be until men are inlisted for a longer duration; and that will never be effected until we are more generous in our encouragement to men. But I am convinced that time alone will persuade us to this measure; and in the mean time, we shall very indiscreetly waste a much greater expense than would be necessary for this great purpose, in temporary calls upon Militia, besides risking the loss of many lives and much reputation.


Congress has not determined to have no regard to the line of succession in promotions, but only that this line shall not be an invariable rule; caeteris paribus, the line will be pursued; but they mean to reserve a right of distinguishing extraordinary merit or demerit. This rule may be abused; but is it not necessary? All good things are liable to abuse. I am afraid, nay, I know it will be abused in particular instances; but if we make the succession an invariable rule, will not the abuse be greater? Is it not common in the British Army to promote junior officers over the heads of their superiors — nay, even officers in the same regiment, and on the same command? I have been told of several instances; this, however, is wrong.

Your opinions of men and things I wish I knew in more detail, because I have a good opinion of your judgment of both; and I fear, situated as I am, many things relating to both may not have come to my knowledge that I ought to know. As the first officer in the Massachusetts service, you have in some sort the patronage of all the officers. I hope you will recommend the best men for promotion. I confess myself very ignorant of the military characters from that State.

By some expressions in the clause of your letter, I conclude you were not perfectly satisfied with a late promotion. Be assured, sir, if that was raising an inferior officer over the head of any superior, it was not considered in that light by the gentlemen who did it; the person promoted was thought to be the ablest Brigadier, and intituled to advancement by the line of succession; and it is my opinion he would have been made a Major-General much sooner, if his experience had not been thought indispensable in the Adjutant-General' s department.

I am, sir, with great respect, your affectionate servant,

To General Heath.