HANCOCK, JOHN, Signer (Massachusetts). Fragmentary document signed ("John Hancock," with flourish) as President of the Continental Congress, n.p., n.d. [Baltimore, 27 December 1776]. 1 page, folio, 315 x 205 mm. (12½ x 8 in.), docketed on verso in two different hands "...investing Genl Washington with certain powers...," browned, neatly silked, folds carefully mended.
CONGRESS CONFERS EXTRAORDINARY POWERS ON WASHINGTON
An exceptionally intriguing fragment, comprising the last page only of an official copy signed by Hancock of Congress's highly important resolutions of 27 December 1776. Passed after news of the victory at Trenton, it granted Washington extraordinary powers to appoint, commission, organize and train an army. Clearly, several nearly identical transcripts of the resolution were prepared and signed by Hancock, and sent to Washington. Another transcription, in the same hand as this fragment, is illustrated in Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 6:460-461 (folding plate), with the caption "Resolve of Congress...conferring powers of a dictator on Washington."
In the following, the italicized portion is from the missing section: "This Congress, having maturely considered the present crisis; and having perfect reliance on the wisdom, vigour, and uprightness of General Washington, do, hereby, Resolve, That General Washington shall be, and he is hereby, vested with full, ample, and complete powers to raise and collect together, in the most speedy and effectual manner, from any and all these United States; sixteen battallions of infantry, in addition to those already voted by Congress; to appoint Officers for the said battallions; to raise, officer, and equip three thousand light horse; three regiments of artillery, and a corps of engineers, and to establish their pay; to apply to any of the States for such aid of the Militia as he shall judge necessary; to form such magazines of provisions, and in such places, as he shall think proper; to displace and appoint all officers under the Rank of Brigadier Genl. and to fill up all Vacancies in every other Department in the American Armies; to take wherever he may be, whatever he may want for the Use of the Army, if the Inhabitants will not sell it, allowing a reasonable Price for the same; to arrest and confine persons who refuse to take the Continental Currency, or are otherwise disaffected to the American Cause, and return to the States of which they are Citizens their Names, and the Nature of their Offences together with the Witnesses to prove them. That the foregoing Powers be vested in Genl. Washington for and during the Term of six Months from the Date hereof, unless sooner determined by Congress. Resolved, That the Council of Safety of Pennsylvania be requested to take the most vigorous and speedy Measures for furnishing all such as shall refuse Continental Currency, and that the General be directed to give all necessary Aid to the Council of Safety for carrying their Measures on this Subject, into Effectual Execution..."
While the powers granted by this resolve may have been unprecedented, elicited by the crisis in which the new nation found itself, Congress took the precaution of limiting these to a period of six months.