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Washington, George (1732-1799) Contemporary Fair Copy of Correspondence between General George Washington and Lieutenant General Thomas Gage, Cambridge and Boston, August 11, 13, and 19, 1775. Inscribed over four and a half pages, some discoloration due to old tape repairs, flattened and silked, slight losses along some fold lines, 12 1/2 x 7 3/4 in.
"To Lieutenant General Thomas Gage, Cambridge August 11th 1775. Sir, I understand that the Officers engaged in the Cause of Liberty, and their Country, who by the Fortune of War, have fallen into your Hands have been thrown indiscriminately, into a common Gaol appropriated for Felons—That no Consideration has been had for those of the most respectable Rank, when languishing with Wounds and Sickness. That some have been even amputated, in this unworthy Situation.
Let your Opinion, Sir, of the Principle which actuates them be what it may, they suppose they act from the noblest of all Principles, a Love of Freedom, and their Country. But political Opinions I conceive are foreign to this Point, the Obligations arising from the Rights of Humanity, & Claims of Rank, are universally binding and extensive, except in Case of Retaliation. These, I should have hoped, would have dictated a more tender Treatment of those Individuals, whom Chance or War had put in your Power—Nor can I forbear suggesting, its fatal Tendency to widen that unhappy Breach, which you, and those Ministers under whom you act, have repeatedly declared you wish'd to see forever closed.
My Duty now makes it necessary to apprize you, that for the future I shall regulate my Conduct towards those Gentlemen who are or may be in our Possession, exactly by the Rule which you shall observe, towards those of ours, who may be in your Custody. If Severity, & Hardship mark the Line of your Conduct, (painful as it may be to me) your Prisoners will feel its Effects: But if Kindness & Humanity are shewn to ours, I shall with Pleasure consider those in our Hands, only as unfortunate, and they shall receive the Treatment to which the unfortunate are ever intitled.
I beg to be favoured with an Answer as soon as possible. And am, Sir, Your very Hum Servt
"General Gage's Answer to the foregoing, Boston, 13th August 1775. Sir, To the Glory of Civilized Nations, humanity and War have been compatible; and Compassion to the subdued, is become almost a general system.
Britons, ever preeminent in Mercy, have outgone common examples, and overlooked the Criminal in the Captive. Upon these principles your Prisoners, whose Lives by the Laws of the Land are destined to the Cord, have hitherto been treated with care and kindness, and more comfortably lodged then the King's Troops in the Hospitals, indiscriminately it is true, for I Acknowledge no Rank that is not derived from the King.
My intelligence from your Army would justify severe recrimination. I understand there are of the King's faithfull Subjects, taken sometime since by the Rebels, labouring like Negro Slaves, to gain their daily Subsistence, or reduced to the Wretched Alternative, to perish by famine, or take Arms against their King and Country. Those who have made the Treatment of the Prisoners in my hands, or of your other Friends in Boston, a pretence for such Measures, found Barbarity upon falsehood.
I would willingly hope Sir, that the Sentiments of liberality, which I have always believed you to possess, will be exerted to correct these misdoings. Be temperate in political disquisition, give free Operation to truth, and punish those who decieve and misrepresent, and not only the effects, but the Causes of this unhappy Conflict will be removed.
Should those under whose usurped Authority you Act, controul such a disposition, and dare to call severity retaliation, to God who knows all hearts be the appeal for the dreadfull consequences. I trust that British Soldiers Asserting the rights of the State, the Laws of the Land, the being of the Constitution, will meet all Events with becoming fortitude. They will court Victory with the Spirit their cause inspires, and from the same Motive will find the patience of Martyrs under misfortune.
Till I read your insinuations in regard to Ministers, I concieved that I had acted under the King: Whose wishes, it is true, as well as those of his Ministers, and of every honest Man have been to see this unhappy Breach forever closed, but unfortunately for both Countrys, those who long since projected the present Crisis, and influence the Councils of America, have views very distant from Accomodation. I am, Sir, Your most Obedient humble Servant
"The following is General Washington's Reply to the above --- Headquarters, Cambridge, Aug. 19th, 1775. Sir, I address'd you on the 11th Instant in Terms which gave the fairest Scope, for the Exercise of that Humanity & Politeness, which were supposed to form a Part of your Character—I remonstrated with you, on the unworthy Treatment shewn to the Officers, and Citizens of America, whom the Fortune of War, Chance, or a mistaken Confidence had thrown into your Hands. Whether British, or American Mercy, Fortitude, & Patience are most preeminent; whether our virtuous Citizens whom the Hand of Tyranny has forced into Arms, to defend their Wives, their Children, & their Property; or the mercenary Instruments of lawless Domination, Avarice, and Revenge best deserve the Appellation of Rebels, and the Punishment of that Cord, which your affected Clemency has forborne to inflict; Whether the Authority under which I act is usurp'd, or founded on the genuine Principles of Liberty, were altogether foreign to my Subject. I purposely avoided all political Disquisition; nor shall I now avail myself of those Advantages, which the sacred Cause of my Country, of Liberty, and human Nature give me over you. Much less shall I stoop to Retort, & Invective. But the Intelligence, you say, you have received from our Army requires a Reply. I have taken Time, Sir, to make a strict Inquiry, and find it has not the least Foundation in Truth. Not only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides, whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People. Far from compelling, or even permitting their Assistance, I am embarassed with the Numbers who crowd to our Camp animated with the purest Principles of Virtue, & Love of their Country.
You advise me to give free Operation to Truth, to punish Misrepresentation & Falshood. If Experience stamps Value upon Counsel, yours must have a Weight which few can claim. You best can tell, how far the Convulsion which has brought such Ruin on both Countries, and shaken the mighty Empire of Brittain to its Foundation, may be traced to those malignant Causes.
You affect, Sir, to despise all Rank not derived from the same Source with your own. I cannot conceive any more honourable, than that which flows from the uncorrupted Choice of a brave and free People—The purest Source & original Fountain of all Power. Far from making it a Plea for Cruelty, a Mind of true Magnanimity, & enlarged Ideas would comprehend & respect it.
What may have been the ministerial Views which precipitated the present Crisis, Lexington—Concord, & Charlestown can best declare—May that God to whom you then appealed, judge between America & you! Under his Providence, those who influence the Councils of America, and all the other Inhabitants of these united Colonies, at the Hazard of their Lives, are resolved to hand down to Posterity those just & invaluable Privileges which they received from their Ancestors.
I shall now, Sir, close my Correspondence with you, perhaps forever. If your Officers who are our Prisoners receive a Treatment from me, different from what I wish'd to shew them, they, & you, will remember the Occasion of it. I am Sir, Your very Hum Servant, Go: Washington"
Provenance: The Estate of David Spinney.
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