After the successful siege of Boston, General George Washington begins marching his unpaid soldiers from their headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, toward New York in anticipation of a British invasion, on this day in 1776.
In a letter to the president of Congress, General Washington wrote of his intentions in marching to New York and expressed frustration with Congress for failing to send adequate funds to allow him to pay his troops. Washington wrote, I heartily wish the money had arrived sooner, that the Militia might have been paid as soon as their time of Service expired. The lack of payment left Washington’s soldiers with feelings of great uneasiness and they are gone home much dissatisfied and the commander in chief had received severe complaints from the other Troops on the same account. Washington hoped that, upon his arrival in New York, a sufficient sum will be there ready to pay every claim.
The Continental Congress’ inability to promptly pay or adequately supply its soldiers persisted throughout the war and continued as a subject of debate following the peace at Yorktown. Two major ramifications of the financial crisis marked the birth of the new nation. First, Congress began to pay soldiers with promises of western lands instead of currency—the same land Congress simultaneously promised to its Indian allies. Secondly, Congress’ inability to pay expenses even after winning the war eventually convinced conservative Patriots that it was necessary to overthrow the Articles of Confederation and draft the Constitution of the United States. The new and more centralized Constitution, with its three branches of government, had greater authority to raise funds and an increased ability to manage the new nation’s finances. Alexander Hamilton, in his role as the first secretary of the treasury under President George Washington, focused his efforts on mimicking British financial institutions, most significantly in his championship of the First Bank of the United States, as a means of stabilizing the new nation’s economy.