Today, the George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when the Continental Congress decided the colonies needed a Continental Army and chose George Washington as its General and Commander in Chief.
Extracted from the Journal of the Continental Congress for June 15, 1775:
Agreeable to the order of the day, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole to take into consideration the ways and means of raising money and the state of America; after some time spent therein the president resumed the chair, and Mr. Samuel Ward reported, that the committee had come to certain resolutions, which they desired him to report, but not having yet come to a conclusion ordered him to move for leave to sit again.
The report of the committee being read and debated,
Resolved, That a General be appointed to command all the continental forces, raised, or to be raised, for the defense of American liberty.
That five hundred dollars, per month, be allowed for his pay and expenses.
The Congress then proceeded to the choice of a general, by ballot, when George Washington, Esq. was unanimously elected.
Resolved, that the Congress will to Morrow again resolve itself into a committee of the whole to take into consideration the state of America.
From The Life of George Washington by Aaron Bancroft, published in 1844, additional insights into choice of Commander in Chief:
From the close of the war on the frontiers of Virginia, to the commencement of the revolutionary contest, Colonel Washington acted as a Judge of a County Court, and represented his district in the House of Burgesses of his Province.
Although never distinguished as a popular speaker, yet the soundness of his judgment, the wisdom of his counsels, and the uniform propriety of his behavior, secured him the confidence and esteem of all who were acquainted with his character.
While a Legislator of Virginia, he took an active part in opposition to the principle assumed by the British Parliament, to tax the American colonies.
When it became expedient to train the militia for the defense of those rights, which the country determined never to sacrifice, the independent companies in the Northern part of Virginia chose him their Commander.
He was elected a member of the first Congress, which met in Philadelphia in 1774; in which body he had a distinguished agency in the arrangement of the military resources of the United Provinces.
He was the active member of all Committees, to which business of this nature was entrusted.
At the commencement of hostilities, Congress deemed it necessary to appoint a Commander in Chief of the American forces.
The eminent character of Colonel Washington pointed him out as the best qualified to unite the confidence of the public, and successfully to conduct the arduous conflicts of the war.
Congress unanimously elected him “General and Commander in Chief of the United Colonies, and of all the forces now raised, and to be raised by them.”
When the President of Congress communicated his election, he thus addressed him.
“Mr. President, although I am truly sensible of the high honor done me in this appointment, yet I feel great distress from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive trust.
“However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for the support of the glorious cause.
“I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their approbation.
“But lest some unlucky event should happen, unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room, that I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.
“I beg leave, Sir, to assure the Congress, that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous employment, at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it.
“I will keep an exact account of my expenses. These, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire.”
Congress, when his commission was executed, unanimously and solemnly resolved, to support him their army, in defense of the country.
General Washington instantly prepared to enter upon the eventful duties of his command.
The difficulties which he was to encounter, will clearly appear from a slight view of the state of the country, and of the condition of the army.
As a means to repel the encroachments of the British Parliament, the American merchants had generally entered into resolutions, not to import articles of merchandise from Great Britain; and at the commencement of the war, the country was, in a great degree, destitute of ammunition, and of every material necessary to clothe an army, and furnish the men with tents.
There were no considerable magazines of provisions, and few tools suitable for the work of fortification
The men who composed the army were raised by different States, on short enlistments, and on different establishments; and they carried into the camp, the feelings and habits formed by their respective pursuits in private life.
They were animated by the love of liberty, and possessed the resolution and bravery of hardy yeomanry; but they could not easily be brought to submit to the rigid rules of military subordination and discipline.
The authority of Congress and of different Colonies was blended in all the arrangements of the army.
These causes occasioned numerous and complicated embarrassments to the Commander in Chief.
The appointment of General Washington was universally approved.
On his journey to headquarters, he met with the most respectful attention, and received the fullest assurances of assistance and support.
He was escorted by companies of volunteers; and, at Springfield, a hundred miles from Boston, a Committee of the Congress of Massachusetts met, and attended him to Cambridge.
The George Washington Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s rendition of the Continental Congress choosing Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, circa 1876.