by Dan Shippey & Michael Burns

        Looking out from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Congress could see soldiers moving in with muskets to surround the building. They wanted to call on Continental Army troops to protect them, but there was a problem; the Continental troops were the ones surrounding them.

        In June, 1783, the Revolutionary war was over. While some small details of the Treaty of Paris were still being worked out, all of America knew that peace was at hand. More importantly, the Army that had fought and won independence knew peace was at hand. The army was going to be largely disbanded and sent home to their farms, businesses and families--but without the pay they had been promised. In fact, the Congress had been delinquent in paying their soldiers for some time and was not showing any signs of planning to pay them. The soldiers had just fought a war for rights they had been promised and denied by the Government of England; they were not about to let their newly formed Government deny them what had been promised. The men knew that if they disbanded and went home they would be powerless to demand their pay, so on June 17, 1783 Congress received a message from Soldiers of the Continental Army stationed at Philadelphia. The message insisted upon payment for their service and threatened action if their grievances were not redressed. Congress ignored the message.

  The Philadelphia State House was without its Bell Tower in 1783 as in the picture above

       Two days after their first message, approximately 80 soldiers left their posts and joined forces with soldiers stationed in the Philadelphia City barracks. As the number of soldiers swelled to around 500, the men seized control of the weapons stores. Surprisingly, Congress still did not seem ready to answer the soldiers’ complaints; so on the morning of the 20th around 400 armed soldiers marched on Congress and surrounded Independence Hall. Now under siege, the Congress wanted to leave the building; however, the door was blocked by soldiers demanding their pay.



Alexander Hamilton, himself a former artillery officer, negotiated with the soldiers and convinced them to let Congress go so that they could address their concerns later.       


During the night of the 20th, Hamilton met with a committee to send a request to the Pennsylvania Executive Council for militia troops to protect them. Effectively this was the national (not yet Federal) Government asking the State Government to protect them from their own troops. The Pennsylvania Executive Council met with their own militia commanders and, not surprisingly, refused Congress their request. If they had agreed one can only wonder if the state militia would have actually been willing to defend Congress and possibly fire on fellow soldiers and patriots. Fortunately, the situation did not arise. Congress fled from Philadelphia and resumed operation in Princeton, New Jersey.

      Did the soldiers ever get paid? That is the question that lingers without any satisfactory answer. Some of them were most likely paid part of what they were due, but the young American Government, still operating under the Articles of Confederation, possessed very little money and had no real power to raise funds. These issues would burden the national Government until the ratification of the Constitution and the establishment of the Federal Government. Those soldiers who survived long enough and could prove their service were later granted pensions, but our nation could never adequately repay those veterans for what they did.

      One of the lasting impacts of the 1783 Pennsylvania Mutiny was the creation of Washington, DC. The national Capitol City was planned as a federal district instead of being located within a state in part so that Congress could have control of its own security and never again be dependent on a state to provide military support. In effect, Congress is still hiding from those 400-500 soldiers who, in the end, only wanted the pay they were owed.

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