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Washington Commission

  • Commission to George Washington as Commander in Chief, June 19, 1775
This document officially named George Washington as the general and commander in chief of the Continental forces.
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    George Washington, marble statue
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Commission to George Washington as Commander in Chief, June 19, 1775

This commission formally designated George Washington general and commander in chief of the Continental forces. Washington had been one of the Virginia delegates to the First Continental Congress in the autumn of 1774 and was reelected to the Second Continental Congress in March 1775. As an indication of his willingness to serve, Washington wore a military uniform when he attended the second Congress in May. His service during the French and Indian (or Seven Years') War made Washington an experienced military man who was well-known, especially in the southern colonies, as a superior soldier. He served on the congressional committee that established the army.

On June 15, 1775, Congress elected him commander of the new army and issued him this commission four days later. Under Washington, the colonists were organized into an orderly, battle-ready army rather than the haphazardly organized local militia units that fought prior to his commission. During the eight and a half years Washington served as commander in chief, he refused to accept any salary, taking only reimbursement for his expenses. He took command of the New England troops that had British-occupied Boston surrounded on July 3, 1775, one year and one day before Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

For Educators

Questions

1. Who was president of the Second Continental Congress?
2. Which colony was not represented when George Washington's commission was issued?

Further Discussion

1. The Second Continental Congress organized an army and named a commander in chief, yet they were a year away from declaring independence. Why did the delegates believe it was necessary to organize an army before declaring independence?
2. What other options did the Americans have besides fighting the British? Is there anyway they could have peacefully reconciled?
3. Why was Washington chosen for this post? Explore his life and career up to this point. What challenges did he face in his role?

Links

Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-Washington Commission

Suggested Reading

Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Marston, Jerrilyn Greene. King and Congress: The Transfer of Political Legitimacy, 1774–1776. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005

IN CONGRESS
THE delegates of the United Colonies of New-hampshire, Massachusetts bay, Rhode-island, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Castle Kent & Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina & South Carolina
TO GEORGE WASHINGTON Esquire
WE reposing especial trust and confidence in your patriotism, conduct and fidelity Do by these presents constitute and appoint you to be GENERAL AND COMMANDER IN CHIEF of the army of the United Colonies and of all the forces raised or to be raised by them and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their service and join the said army for the defence of American Liberty and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof. And you are hereby vested with full power and authority to act as you shall think for the good and Welfare of the service.
AND we do hereby strictly charge and require all officers and soldiers under your command to be obedient to your orders & diligent in the exercise of their several dut[ies.] AND we do also enjoin and require you to be careful in executing the great trust reposed in you, by causing strict discipline and order to be observed in th[e] army and that the soldiers are duly exercised an[d] provided with all convenient necessaries.
AND you are to regulate your conduct in every respect by the rules and discipline of war (as herewith given you) and punctually to observe and foll[ow] such orders and directions from time to time as you shall receive from this or a future Congress of the said United Colonies or a committee of Congress for that purpose appointed.
This Commission to continue inforce until revoked by this or a future Congress.
By order of the Congress JOHN HANCOCK President
Dated Philadelphia June 19th 1775.
Attest CHAS THOMSON Secy.