Ingratitude and Broken Promises?

In 1781, the Continental Congress gave Robert Morris, as Superintendent of Finances, broad powers to reform the administration and funding of the Continental Army. Among his reforms, Morris shifted the burden of paying the officers and soldiers directly to the states, so that the legislature of Massachusetts became responsible for paying the salaries of the ten Massachusetts regiments in the Army. One benefit was that this freed up funds so that Morris could improve the clothing and equipment of the Army.

However, the states often failed to meet their responsibilities, and in June 1783, when those soldiers who had served for the duration of the War were discharged, they were still owed for years of service. Lt. Benjamin Gilbert of the 5th Massachusetts Regiment wrote bitterly about this to his brother-in-law:

“It is impossible for me to paint to you the disagreeable feelings which I have undergone for four or five days past. Those brave men who were [serving for the duration] of the war and who have been fighting from four to eight years in the defense of their country and for the preservation of liberty, are now discharged from the service and are retiring from the field of glory with joy in their countenances, but poverty in their pockets. Not one man in twenty of them has a single farthing to support him on his passage to his friends, but must be under the necessity of begging of those people for the protection of whose liberties and property they have so long fought — an unprecedented piece of ingratitude. If we search the records of heaven, or all the annals of the ancient or modern wars, we cannot find a parallel instance of inhumanity. If this continent and its inhabitants were worth fighting for, one could not be so ungenerous as to suppose it would not reward its protectors. I am at times almost tempted to wish I had not lived to see the day when those brave heroes, the deliverers of my country, should be driven from the field of glory without one farthing of reward for their services. Where is justice, where is the propriety of the Army’s bearing the whole burden of the War?”

Author Bio

Donald L. Hafner is Drum Major of the Lincoln Minute Men. When he is not serving as a fifer in the ranks of the Minute Men, he is a Professor of Political Science at Boston College. His scholarly work has been principally in the fields of arms control and U.S. foreign policy.

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