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Where George Washington Got His Money

by Philip Valenti

December 2011

This article is reprinted with permission from New Federalist . We hope it inspires patriots today to mobilize with our international Schiller Institute and LaRouche movement to defeat the British oligarchy and the oligarchical system forever.

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton by John Trumbull.

At the end of 1776, George Washington faced immediate crisis. On Jan. 1, 1777, the term of enlistment of most of his army would expire, leaving Washington with but 1,000 soldiers.

The American army had been driven out of New York by the British and harried across New Jersey. It had barely 3,000 men, and no money for shoes, clothes, blankets, flour. The British capture of Philadelphia seemed imminent.

This is the story of how Washington raised the money to transform his desperate situation—a transformation that gave birth to the United States.

Victory at Trenton

The day after Christmas 1776, Washington's surprise attack on the 1,600-man Hessian garrison at Trenton lost only four Americans wounded; 1,000 of the enemy were killed, wounded or captured.

But now the British command was aroused, the Hessians eager for revenge. Over 6,000 Hessian and British troops from across New Jersey were mobilized to converge on Princeton, reinforced by an additional 1,000 dispatched from New York by Britain's General Howe. Cornwallis, at the head of 1,000 more British troops, arrived to supervise mopping-up operations against the Americans.

With New Year's Day fast approaching, Washington wrote to Robert Morris, Philadelphia businessman and signer of the Declaration of Independence. "You may as well attempt to stop the Winds from blowing, of the Sun in its diurnal, as the Regiments from going when their term is expired." Although the victory at Trenton had revived the Revolution, Washington now confronted a mobilized and enraged British force, which he could oppose only with whatever new recruits and militia could be mustered once the long-suffering regulars went home.

With just one day remaining in their enlistments, Washington promised his troops a special bounty of ten dollars each—a phenomenal sum—if they agreed to reenlist for six weeks more, time enough to engage Cornwallis in the decisive battle of the war.

That day 1,200 regulars accepted Washington's offer; new recruits, inspired by the victory at Trenton, rallied to Washington's camp.

But Washington had no money to pay the troops what he had promised, and which they expected to get the next morning!

Where did Washington get the money for the operation upon whose success depended the subsequent victory in the battle of Princeton, and the chain of events leading to Saratoga, the French Alliance, Yorktown—American independence?

Patriots: Give All You Can

On December 31, 1776, Washington dispatched a courier on horseback with an urgent letter to Robert Morris:

"Sir: Our affairs are at present in a most delicate, tho' I hope a fortunate situation: But the great and radical Evil which pervades our whole System and like an Ax at the Tree of our Safety, Interest and Liberty here again shews its hateful influence. Tomorrow the Continental Troops are all at Liberty. I wish to push our Success to keep up the Panick and in order to get their Assistance have promised them a Bounty of 10 Dollars if they continue for one Month. But here again a new Difficulty presents itself, we have not Money to pay the Bounty, and we have exhausted our Credit by such frequent Promises that it has not the Weight we could wish. If it be possible, Sir, to give us Assistance, do it; borrow Money where it can be done, we are doing it upon our private Credit; every Man of Interest and every Lover of his Country must strain his Credit upon such an Occasion." (emphasis added.)

Painting of Robert Morris by Robert Edge Pine.

Morris received Washington's plea on New Year's Eve; the sum of $50,000 was needed the next day at Washington's headquarters. As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Morris had pledged his Life, Fortune, and Sacred Honor in support of the Revolution. By December 1776, he had already contributed or loaned all of his personal funds to Congress, besides mortgaging his business and property to raise additional money, as had Washington himself and all of his officers. Morris had written to Washington earlier that year:

"I had long since parted with very considerable sums of hard money to Congress, and therefore must collect from others, and as matters now stand, it is no easy thing. I mean to borrow silver and promise payment in gold, and then will collect the gold in the best manner I can... Whatever I can do shall be done for the good of the cause."

With Washington's messenger waiting impatiently, Morris rose shortly after dawn New Year's Day. He went from door to door in Philadelphia to ask loans and contributions of merchants and patriots. The descendants of one Quaker merchant, Abel James, have proudly preserved an account of their ancestor's meeting with Morris that morning. "What news so early, Robert?" asked James. Morris replied, "The news is just this, my friend. General Washington needs a certain sum of hard money. I would like you to lend dollars" (naming a substantial sum). "But what is thy security, Robert, for this large sum?" "My word and my honor," answered Morris. "Thou shalt have it," said the good Abel James.

Morris returned home with $50,000, which arrived later that morning at Washington's headquarters, accompanied by a letter from Morris:

"I was honored with your favor of yesterday by Mr. Howell late last night, and ever solicitous to comply with your regulations, I am up very early this morning to dispatch a supply of $50,000 to your Excellency. You will receive that sum with this letter; but it will not be got away so early as I could wish, for none concerned in this movement but myself are up. I shall rouse them immediately. It gives me great pleasure that you have engaged the troops to continue, and if further occasional supplied of money are necessary, you may depend on my exertions either in a public or private capacity."

General Washington, with an army of 5,000 men, on Jan. 2 marched to meet Cornwallis's superior force north of Trenton. That night, the Continental Army slipped quietly out of camp and around Cornwallis's right flank to attack his rear guard at Princeton. The Americans took Princeton the morning of Jan. 3, and Cornwallis beat a hasty, panicky retreat to New York.

With the direct overland route to Philadelphia firmly in patriotic hands, General Howe dared not confront Washington again on such unfriendly ground. Howe resolved to approach Philadelphia with his army by sea—not reaching the Chesapeake Bay until August 1777, finally disembarking at Elkton, Maryland on August 25. Howe marched triumphantly into the "reble capital" September 25, there to learn of the total destruction of "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne's force at Saratoga, including the surrender of over 6,000 Redcoats to America's General Horatio Gates.

Then, as now, the money for a great victory against the enemies of humanity came from patriots who were honored to give and raise all they could. It has never been a mystery where the George Washingtons "get their money," neither today, nor 235 years ago.