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Greene and Restoration of Civil Government

Of the little known of Greene’s accomplishments in the Southern theatre, his attempt to restore civil government in a war-torn region is one of the most impressive. In 1781, Greene was concerned about the social fabric of the south and the lack of administrative authority. He had initiated a relief policy, normally a responsibility of the state. To counteract the murders and the senseless plundering that had characterized the region, Greene wrote Andrew Pickens, noting that “many of the inhabitants are reduced to beggary and want from the late ravages of the enemy and must suffer exceedingly [unless] some mode is adopted to afford them some relief.” Greene recommended appointing persons “ to take from the hand of plenty and apply to the necessities of those people.” Reconciliation was in the offing. He wanted to get Loyalists back into the fold. “It is most certainly our interest to encourage return of the Tories; and I wish you to give them all the encouragement in your power,” he wrote to Pickens again.

Greene had also sent a letter to Governor John Rutledge of South Carolina urging him to begin the process of re-establishing civilian government, and did the same with officials in Georgia. By December of 1781, South Carolina was holding elections for a new state legislature, and Georgia did the same in August. But, yet there was another reason Greene was pushing for new state governments. He had received intelligence that foreign powers would help negotiate a peace treaty, and the treaty might be drawn upon the plan of uti possidetis, or “as you possess.” What this meant was that each side would keep the territory it had conquered by the conclusion of the war. Greene desired quick action by civil authorities. Luckily, Greene’s intelligence on this matter was faulty, as the Treaty of Paris said nothing about determining new borders. Fortunately, by the time the war ended, Greene had forced the British from Savannah in 1782, and from Charleston in December, 1781. But, Greene’s influence on the re-establishment on state government waned by the end of the war. His conflicts with local officials about supplying his troops in the field and proposals to enlist black troops fell on deaf ears, and the latter especially proved unpopular. Regardless, Greene’s efforts to rebuild a devastated region from years of civil war and war with the British proved admirable. For more, please see Chapter 8, “The Tide Ebbs.


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