Monday, July 18, 2011

George Washington's Commission as Commander-in-Chief

  I was sifting through some old notes today and came across this and thought I would post it. It's George Washington's commission from the Continental Congress, dated June 17th, 1775, appointing him as General and Commander-in-Chief of the army of the "United Colonies." Washington was unanimously selected as the Commander-in-Chief on June 15th. He accepted on June 16th, and the commission was drafted and signed by John Hancock as President and Charles Thomson as Secretary on the 17th.

   John Hancock had ambitions for this post and was very perturbed when John Adams, with Samuel Adams' concurrence, nominated Washington. Hancock thought himself somewhat of a military man and liked to refer to himself as "Colonel Hancock." He, indeed was appointed as "Captain of the Company of Cadets with the rank of Colonel" in the Massachusetts militia in Boston. This was largely a ceremonial post  as the unit was called the "Governor's Guard". The only real military experience Hancock had was to lead the company of cadets on parade through the streets of Boston. Hancock's first act after his appointment was to advertise for two fifers in the Boston papers, presumably to accompany him as he marched through the streets. General Gage revoked this commission shortly after he arrived in Boston in May of 1774. Later in February of 1776 Hancock was appointed a Major-General in the Massachusetts Militia.

   Charles Thomson was born in Ireland but emigrated to the colonies as a young boy. He later made his home in Pennsylvania and was referred to by John Adams as the "Samuel Adams of Philadelphia." Thomson served as secretary of the Continental Congress throughout its existence and his name appears, as secretary, on the Declaration of Independence. Thomson's tenure as secretary was not without problems as members sometimes had problems on the manner in which Thomson recorded their remarks. On one occasion, James Searles a delegate and friend of  both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, started a cane fight on the floor of the Congress by attacking Thomson after alleging that Thomson had misquoted him in the Minutes. Both men received slashes to the face. Who says that a secretary's position is without danger?

Washington's Commission

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. I thought this document was lost to posterity. I read in General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783, that Washington had requested this be returned to him after the ceremony of returning it, but that he never got it. I assumed (wrongly, apparently) that it was lost. Thanks for posting this!