Front Page Titles (by Subject) GENERAL WASHINGTON TO JAY. [Private.] - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781)
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GENERAL WASHINGTON TO JAY. [Private.] - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 1 (1763-1781).
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GENERAL WASHINGTON TO JAY.
I have received your several favours of the 2d, 3d, and 28th of March, and 6th of April. I thank you for them all, but especially for the last, which I consider as a distinguishing mark of your confidence and friendship.
Conscious that it is the aim of my actions to promote the public good, and that no part of my conduct is influenced by personal enmity to individuals, I cannot be insensible to the artifice employed by some men to prejudice me in the public esteem. The circumstance of which you have obliged me with a communication, is among a number of other instances of the unfriendly views which have governed a certain gentleman from a very early period. Some of these have been too notorious not to have come to your knowledge; others, from the manner in which they have been conveyed to me, will probably never be known, except to a very few. But you have perhaps heard enough yourself to make any further explanation from me unnecessary.
The desire, however, which it is natural I should feel to preserve the good opinion of men of sense and virtue, conspiring with my wish to cultivate your friendship in particular, induces me to trouble you with a statement of some facts which will serve to place the present attack in its proper light. In doing this I shall recapitulate and bring into view a series of transactions, many of which have been known to you; but some of which may possibly have escaped your memory.
An opinion prevailing that the enemy were likely, shortly, to evacuate these States, I was naturally led to turn my thoughts to a plan of operations against Canada, in case that event should take place. A winter campaign, before the enemy could have an opportunity of reinforcing and putting themselves in a more perfect state of defence, appeared to promise the most speedy and certain success, and the route by Co-os offered itself as most direct and practicable. In this I fully agreed with General Gates and some other gentlemen whom I consulted on the occasion; and on the 12th of September last I wrote to Congress accordingly, submitting it to them, whether it would not be advisable to be laying up magazines, opening a road, and making other preparations for the undertaking. They approved the project, and authorized me to carry it into execution. I the more readily entered into it from a consideration, that if circumstances should not permit us to carry on the enterprise, preparations towards it could easily be converted into another channel, and made serviceable to our operations elsewhere without any material addition of expense to the continent, because provisions, which would compose the principal part of the expense, were at all events to be purchased on Connecticut River, the only doubt being whether they should be used in an expedition against Canada, or transported to Boston—circumstances to determine this: with truth it may be added, that, excepting the articles of provision and forage, which, as before observed, would have been bought if no expedition by the way of Co-os had been in contemplation, the “incredible expense,” mentioned by General Gates in his letter of March 4th, amounted to the purchase of a few pair of men’s shoes, and some leather for moccasins only. If any other expense has been incurred, it is unknown to me—must have been by his order, and he alone answerable for it.
In October following, Congress entered into arrangements with the Marquis de la Fayette for co-operating with the court of France, in an expedition against that country. In this scheme, one body of troops was to proceed from Co-os and penetrate by way of the river St. Francis; others forming a junction at Niagara, were to enter Canada by that route; and while these were operating in this manner, a French fleet and a body of French troops were to go up the river St. Lawrence, and take possession of Quebec.
You are well acquainted with the opposition I gave to this plan, and my reasons at large for it. From what has since happened, they seem to have met the full approbation of Congress. The ideas I held up were principally these: that we ought not to enter into any contract with a foreign power, unless we were sure we should be able to fulfil our engagements—that it was uncertain whether the enemy would quit the States or not; and in case they did not, it would be impracticable to furnish the aids which we had stipulated—that even if they should leave us, it was doubtful whether our own resources would be equal to the supplies required; that therefore it would be impolitic to hazard a contract of the kind, and better to remain at liberty to act as future conjunctures should point out. I recommended, nevertheless, as there were powerful reasons to hope the enemy might go away, that eventual preparations should be made to take advantage of it, to possess ourselves of Niagara and other posts in that quarter, for the security of our frontiers, and to carry our views still further with respect to a conquest of Canada, if we should find ourselves able to prosecute such an enterprise.
This Congress, in a subsequent resolve, approved, and directed to be done. It was not the least motive with me for recommending it, that operations of this nature seemed to be a very favourable object with this honourable body. The preparations on Hudson River were undertaken in consequence.
Upon a nearer view of our finances and resources, and when it came to be decided that the enemy would continue for some time longer to hold the posts they were in possession of, in the course of the conferences with which I was honoured by the committee of Congress in Philadelphia, I suggested my doubts of the propriety of continuing our northern preparations upon so extensive a plan as was first determined. The committee were of opinion with me, that the state of our currency and supplies in general would oblige us to act on the defensive next campaign, except so far as related to an expedition into the Indian country for chastising the savages, and preventing their depredations on our back settlements; and that though it would be extremely desirable to be prepared for pushing our operations further, yet our necessities exacting a system of economy forbade our launching into much extra expense for objects which were remote and contingent. This determination having taken place, all the northern preparations were discontinued, except such as were necessary towards the intended Indian expedition.
Things were in this situation when I received a letter from General Bailey (living at Co-os), expressing some fears for the safety of the magazine at Co-os; in consequence of which I directed the stores to be removed lower down the country. This I did to prevent the possibility of accident, though I did not apprehend they were in much danger. Sometime afterward I received the letter (No. 1) from General Gates, expressing similar fears, to which I returned him the answer of 14th February, transmitted by him to Congress (No. 2). Knowing that preparations had been making at Albany, and unacquainted with their true design, he inferred, from a vague expression in that letter, that the intention of attacking Canada was still adhered to, but that I had changed the plan, and was going by way of Lake Champlain or Ontario: either of these routes he pronounces impracticable, and represents that by Co-os as the only practicable one. He goes further, and declares, that “in the present state of our army, and the actual situation of our magazines, to attempt a serious invasion of Canada by whatever route, would prove unsuccessful, unless the fleet of our allies should at the same time co-operate with us, by sailing up the river St. Lawrence.” Though I differ with him as to the impracticability of both the other routes, I venture to go a step beyond him respecting our ability to invade Canada; and am convinced, that in our present circumstances, and with the enemy in front, we cannot undertake a serious invasion of that country at all, even with the aid of an allied fleet.
You will perceive, sir, that I have uniformly made the departure of the enemy from these States an essential condition to the invasion of Canada, and that General Gates has entirely mistaken my intentions. Hoping that I had embarked in a scheme which our situation would not justify, he eagerly seizes the opportunity of exposing my supposed errors to Congress; and in the excess of his intemperate zeal to injure me, exhibits himself in a point of view from which I imagine he will derive little credit. The decency of the terms in which he undertakes to arraign my conduct, both to myself and to Congress, and the propriety of the hasty appeal he has made, will, I believe, appear at least questionable to every man of sense and delicacy.
The last paragraph of the extract with which you favour me, is a pretty remarkable one. I shall make no comments further than as it implies a charge of neglect on my part, in not writing to him but once since December. From the beginning of last campaign to the middle of December, about seven months, I have copies of near fifty letters to him, and about forty originals from him. I think it will be acknowledged the correspondence was frequent enough during that period; and if it has not continued in the same proportion since, the only reason was, that the season of the year, the troops being in winter-quarters, and General Gates’s situation unfruitful of events, and unproductive of any military arrangements between us, afforded very little matter for epistolary intercourse; and I flatter myself it will be readily believed, that I am sufficiently occupied with the necessary business of my station, and have no need of increasing it by multiplying letters without an object. If you were to peruse, my dear sir, the letters that have passed between General Gates and myself for a long time back, you would be sensible that I have no great temptation to court his correspondence, when the transacting of business does not require it. An air of design—a want of candour in many instances, and even of politeness, give no very inviting complexion to the correspondence on his part. As a specimen of this, I send you a few letters and extracts, which at your leisure, I shall be glad you will cast your eye upon.
Last fall it was for some time strongly suspected that the enemy would transport the whole, or the greater part, of their force eastward, and combine one great land and sea operation against the French fleet in Boston harbour: on this supposition, as I should go in person to Boston, the command next in importance was the posts on the North River. This properly would devolve on General Gates; but from motives of peculiar scrupulousness, as there had been a difference between us, I thought it best to know whether it was agreeable to him, before I directed his continuance. By way of compliment, I wrote him a letter containing the extract No. 3, expecting a cordial answer and cheerful acceptance. I received the evasive and unsatisfactory reply, No. 4. A few days after this, upon another occasion, I wrote him the letter No. 5, to which I received the extraordinary answer No. 6, which was passed over in silence.
The plan of operations for the campaign being determined, a commanding officer was to be appointed for the Indian expedition. This command, according to all present appearance, will probably be of the second, if not of the first importance for the campaign. The officer conducting it has a flattering prospect of acquiring more credit than can be expected by any other this year, and he has the best reason to hope for success. General Lee, from his situation, was out of the question. General Schuyler, who, by the way, would have been most agreeable to me, was so uncertain of continuing in the army, that I could not appoint him. General Putnam I need not mention. I therefore made the offer of it (for the appointment could no longer be delayed) to General Gates, who was next in seniority, though perhaps I might have avoided it, if I had been so disposed, from his being in a command by the special appointment of Congress. My letter to him on the occasion you will find in No. 7. I believe you will think it was conceived in very candid and polite terms, and merited a different answer from the one given it in No. 8.
I discovered, very early in the war, symptoms of coldness and constraint in General Gates’s behaviour to me. These increased as he rose into greater consequence; but we did not come to a direct breach till the beginning of last year. This was occasioned by a correspondence, which I thought made rather free with me, between him and General Conway, which accidentally came to my knowledge. The particulars of this affair you will find delineated in the packet herewith, endorsed “Papers respecting General Conway.” Besides the evidence contained in them of the genuineness of the offensive correspondence, I have other proofs, still more convincing, which, having been given me in a confidential way, I am not at liberty to impart.
After this affair subsided, I made it a point of treating General Gates with all the attention and cordiality in my power, as well from a sincere desire of harmony, as from an unwillingness to give any cause of triumph to our enemies from an appearance of dissension among ourselves. I can appeal to the world and to the whole army, whether I have not cautiously avoided every word or hint that could tend to disparage General Gates in any way. I am sorry his conduct to me has not been equally generous, and that he is continually giving me fresh proofs of malevolence and opposition. It will not be doing him injustice to say, that besides the little underhand intrigues which he is frequently practising, there has hardly been any great military question in which his advice has been asked, that it has not been given in an equivocal and designing manner, apparently calculated to afford him an opportunity of censuring me, on the failure of whatever measures might be adopted.
When I find that this gentleman does not scruple to take the most unfair advantages of me, I am under a necessity of explaining his conduct to justify my own. This, and the perfect confidence I have in you, have occasioned me to trouble you with so free a communication of the state of things between us. I shall still be as passive as a regard to my own character will permit. I am, however, uneasy, as General Gates has endeavoured to impress Congress with an unfavourable idea of me, and as I only know this in a private confidential way, that I cannot take any step to remove the impression if it should be made. I am aware, sir, of the delicacy of your situation, and I mean this letter only for your own private information; you will therefore not allow yourself to be embarrassed by its contents, but with respect to me, pass it over in silence.
With the truest esteem and personal regard,