Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Custom of All Civilized Nations

On May 11, 1776, George Washington wrote to John Hancock, the President of Congress, "Before I have done, with the utmost deference and respect I would beg leave to remind Congress of my former letters and applications respecting the appointment of proper persons to superintend and take direction of such prisoners as have already fallen and will fall into our hands in the course of the war, being fully convinced that if there were persons appointed for, and who would take the whole management of them under their care, that the Continent would save a considerable sum of money by it, and the prisoners be better treated and provided with real necessaries than what they now are...."

Washington considered the appointment of a commissary for prisoners a "matter of much importance," adding, "Such establishments are agreeable to the practice and usage of the English and other nations, and are founded on principles of necessity and publick utility."

George Washington hoped, among other concerns, to insure consistently good treatment of prisoners. "I shall only subjoin one more, and then have done on the subject; which is, that many of the towns where prisoners have been already sent, not having convenience for, or the means of keeping them, complain they are burdensome, and have become careless, inattentive, and altogether indifferent whether they escape or not; and those of them that are restricted to a closer confinement, (the limits of jail,) neglected, and not treated with that care and regard which Congress wish."

"Resolved, That it is the opinion of this Committee that it would be a great saving to the United Colonies...to have a Commissary for Prisoners appointed for each of three Departments to superintend and take the direction and supplying of such Prisoners as have already fallen, or may hereafter fall, into our hands during the course of the war, as nearly conformable as the circumstances of this country will admit of, to the custom of all other civilized nations."
--Report of the Congressional Committee on the Letter of Gen. Washington, of May 11
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