Hamilton: Mutiny of the Troops, July 1, 1783

Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America’s first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

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Alexander Hamilton: The Works of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 1, 1774: Mutiny of the Troops July 1, 1783 

July 1, 1783.

Resolved, That Major-General Howe be directed to march such part of the force under his command as he shall judge necessary to the State of Pennsylvania, in order that immediate measures may be taken to confine and bring to trial all such persons belonging to the army as have been principally active in the late meeting, to disarm the remainder, and to examine fully.into all the circumstances relating thereto.

That in the exercise of the foregoing resolution, if any matters shall arise which may concern the civil jurisdiction, or in which its aid may be necessary, application be made for the same to the executive authorities of the State.


July 1, 1783.
The Committee, consisting of Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Ellsworth, and Mr. Peters, to whom were referred a letter of the 17th of June from Col. R. Butler, at Lancaster, and sundry papers communicated to Congress by the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, through their delegates, having, on the 19th of June, made a verbal report, and on the 20th of the same month, a report in writing, and the written report being on the 30th recommitted that they might amend it by adding thereto their verbal report, and the report being this day brought in with the said amendment, ordered that it be entered on the journal.


The Committee, to whom were referred the letters and papers communicated to Congress by the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, through their delegates, report: That they had a conference yesterday, as directed, with the Supreme Executive Council, in which, in the first instance, the propriety of calling out a detachment of militia to intercept the mutineers on their march from Lancaster was proposed to the Council, suggesting the danger of their being suffered with impunity to join the troops in the barracks, who a few days before had manifested a dangerous spirit by an insolent and threatening message sent to Congress in the name of a board of sergeants, and who, it was apprehended, would be ready to make common cause with those on their march for mutinous purposes; that the Council having shown a reluctance to call out any part of the militia, expressing an opinion that they would not be willing to act till some outrage should have been committed by the troops, there appeared to the Committee no alternative but to endeavor to dissuade the mutineers from coming to town, and if they failed in that attempt, to make use of expedients to prevent the troops in the barracks from joining in any excesses, and to induce the detachment from Lancaster to return to that place; that, in this view, and at their desire, the Assistant Secretary of War met the detachment then on its march to the city, and endeavored to engage them to return to the former place, urging the considerations contained in the annexed instructions within, but the said detachment persisted in their intention of coming to this city and arrived here this morning; that upon conferring with the Superintendent of Finance they find there is a probability that the Paymaster General, to whom the settlement of the accounts of the army has been committed, and who, having all the documents in his possession, can alone execute the business with propriety, will shortly arrive from the army, and will immediately enter upon a settlement with the troops in this State; that, in the meantime, measures will be taken to prepare the business for a future adjustment; that there will immediately be sent to Lancaster a sum of money to be paid to the troops on account of the month’s pay heretofore described to be advanced to them, the payment of which has hitherto been delayed by particular circumstances, together with notes for three months’ pay, intended to be advanced to the men when furloughed; that they have desired this information to be transmitted to the commanding officer here and at Lancaster, with this declaration, that the corps stationed at Lancaster, including the detachment, can only be settled with or paid at that place.

Instructions to Major Jackson


Information having been received that a detachment of about eighty mutineers are on their way from Lancaster to this place, you will please to proceed to meet them, and to endeavor by every prudent method to engage them to return to the post they have left. You will inform them of the orders that have been given, permitting them to remain in service till their accounts shall have been settled, if they prefer it to being furloughed, and of the allowance of pay which has been made to the army at large, and in which they are to be included. You will represent to them that their accounts cannot be settled without their officers, whom they have left behind them at Lancaster. You will represent to them with coolness but energy the impropriety of such irregular proceedings, and the danger they will run by persisting in an improper conduct. You will assure them of the best intentions in Congress to do them justice, and of the absurdity of their expecting to procure it more effectually by intemperate proceedings. You will point out to them the tendency which such proceedings may have to raise the resentments of their country, and to indispose it to take effectual measures for their relief. In short, you will urge every consideration in your power to induce them to return, at the same time avoiding whatever may tend to irritate. If they persist in coming to town, you will give the earliest notice to us of their progress and disposition. Should they want provisions, you will assure them of a supply, if they will remain where they are, which you are to endeavor to persuade them to do, in preference to coming to town.

I am, sir, Your most obedient servant,

A. Hamilton,

In behalf of the Committee.

June 19, 1783.
The Committee, consisting of Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Ellsworth, appointed on the 21st of June, to confer with the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania on the practicability of taking effectual measures to support the public authority, having delivered in a report, ordered that it be entered in the journal.


The Committee appointed to confer with the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania on the practicability of taking effectual measures to support the public authority, in consequence of the disorderly and menacing appearance of a body of armed soldiers surrounding the place where Congress were assembled on Saturday the 21st, beg leave to report.

That they had a conference the morning following with the Supreme Executive Council, agreeable to the intention of Congress, and having communicated their resolution on that subject, informed the Council that Congress considered the proceeding on which that resolution was founded of so serious a nature as to render palliatives improper, and to require that vigorous measures should be taken to put a stop to the further progress of the evil, and to compel submission on the part of the offenders; that, in this view, they had thought it expedient to declare to the Executive of the State in which they reside the necessity of taking effectual measures for supporting the public authority; that though they had declined a specification of the measures which they would deem effectual, it was their sense that a number of the militia should be immediately called out, sufficient to suppress the revolt; that Congress, unwilling to expose the United States to a repetition of the insult, had suspended their ordinary deliberations in this city, till proper steps could be taken to provide against the possibility of it.

The Council, after some conversation, informed the committee that they would wish, previous to a determination, to ascertain the state and disposition of the militia, and to consult the officers for that purpose.

The day following the Committee waited upon the Council for their final resolution, having previously Presented a letter addressed to his Excellency the President, of which a copy is annexed, 1 requesting the determination of the Council in writing. The Council declined a written answer, alleging that it had been unusual on similar occasions; that they were unwilling to do any thing which might appear an innovation in the manner of conducting conferences between their body and committees of Congress; adding, however, that they were ready to give their answer in writing if Congress should request it. They then proceeded to a verbal answer, in substance as follows: that the Council had a high respect for the representative sovereignty of the United States, and were disposed to do every thing in their power to support its dignity. That they regretted the insult which had happened, with this additional motive of sensibility, that they had themselves had a principal share in it. That they had consulted a number of well-informed officers of the militia, and found that nothing in the present state of things was to be expected from that quarter. That the militia of the city in general were not only ill-provided for service, but disinclined to act upon the present occasion. That the Council did not believe any exertions were to be looked for from them, except in case of further outrage and actual violence to person or property. That in such case a respectable body of citizens would arm for the security of their property and of the public peace; but it was to be doubted what measure of outrage would produce this effect; and in particular, it was not to be expected merely from a repetition of the insult which had happened.

The Council observed that they thought it their duty to communicate their expectations with candor, and passed from the subject of the practicability of vigorous measures to the policy of them. They stated that General St. Clair, with the approbation of several members of Congress and of Council, had, by a declaration in writing, permitted the mutineers to choose a committee of commissioned officers to represent their grievances to Council, and had authorized them to expect that a conference would be allowed for that purpose. That it was said the mutineers began to be convinced of their error, and were preparing submissions. That from the steps which had been taken, the business seemed to be in a train of negotiation, and that it merited consideration, how far it would be prudent to terminate the matter in that way rather than employ coercive means.

The Committee remarked, with respect to the scruple about giving an answer in writing, that they could not forbear differing in opinion as to its propriety. That nothing was more common than written communications between the Executives of the different States and the Civil and military officers acting under the authority of the United States; that for a much stronger reason there was a propriety in this mode of transacting business between the Council and a Committee of the body of Congress. That indeed it would be conformable to the most obvious and customary rules of proceeding, and that the importance of the present occasion made it desirable to give every transaction the greatest precision. With respect to the practicability of employing the militia, the Committee observed that this was a point of which the Council was alone competent to judge. That the duty of the Committee was performed in explicitly signifying the expectations of Congress.

And with respect to the policy of coercion, the Committee remarked that the measures taken by Congress clearly indicated their opinion that the excesses of the mutineers had passed the bounds within which a spirit of compromise might consist with the dignity and even safety of government. That impunity for what had happened might encourage to more flagrant proceedings, invite others to follow the example, and extend the mischief. That the passiveness of conduct observed toward the detachment which had mutinied at Lancaster, and came to the city in defiance of their officers, had, no doubt, led to the subsequent violences. That these considerations had determined Congress to adopt decisive measures. That besides the application to the State in which they reside for its immediate support, they had not neglected other means of ultimately executing their purposes, but had directed the Commander-in-Chief to march a detachment of troops toward the city. That whatever moderation it might be prudent to exercise toward the mutineers, when they were once in the power of the government, it was necessary, in the first instance, to place them in that situation. That Congress would probably continue to pursue this object unless it should be superseded by unequivocal demonstrations of submission on the part of the mutineers. That they had hitherto given no satisfactory evidence of this disposition, having lately presented the officers they had chosen to represent their grievances, with a formal commission in writing, enjoining them, if necessary, to use compulsory means for redress, and menacing them with death in case of their failing to execute their views. Under this state of things the Committee could not forbear suggesting to the Council that it would be expedient for them so to qualify the reception which they should think proper to give to any propositions made by the mutineers, as not to create embarrassment, should Congress continue to act on the principle of coercion.

The Committee, finding that there was no satisfactory ground to expect prompt and adequate exertions on the part of the Executive of this State for supporting the public authority, were bound, by the resolution under which they acted, to advise the President to summon Congress to assemble at Princeton or Trenton on Thursday the 26th inst.

Willing, however, to protract the departure of Congress as long as they could be justified in doing it, still hoping that further information would produce more decisive measures on the part of the Council, and desirous of seeing what complexion the intimated submissions would assume, they ventured to defer advising the removal till the afternoon of the day following that on which the answer of Council was given. But having then received no further communication from the Council, and having learned from General St. Clair that the submissions proposed to be offered by the mutineers, through the officers they had chosen to represent them, were not of a nature sufficiently explicit to be accepted or relied on; that they would be accompanied by new demands, to which it would be improper to listen; that the officers themselves composing the committee had shown a mysterious reluctance to inform General St. Clair of their proceedings; had refused in the first instance to do it, and had afterwards only yielded to a peremptory demand on his part; the Committee could no longer think themselves at liberty to delay their advice for an adjournment, which they this day accordingly gave; persuaded, at the same time, that it was necessary to impress the mutineers with a conviction that extremities would be used against them before they would be induced to resolve on a final and unreserved submission.

June 24, 1783.

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The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. The copyright for the original of this document is held in the Public Domain. Font, formatting, spelling modernizations, typo/transcription corrections, and explanatory footnotes for this version of  ”The Works of Alexander Hamilton” Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.