Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO BRYAN FAIRFAX. 2 - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778)
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TO BRYAN FAIRFAX. 2 - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VI (1777-1778).
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TO BRYAN FAIRFAX.2
Valley Forge, 1 March, 1778.
Your favor of the 8th of December came safe to my hands, after a considerable delay on its passage. The sentiments you have expressed to me in this letter are highly flattering, meriting my warmest acknowledgments, as I have too good an opinion of your sincerity and candor to believe that you are capable of unmeaning professions, and speaking a language foreign to your heart. The friendship, which I ever professed and felt for you, met with no diminution from the difference in our political sentiments. I know the rectitude of my own intentions, and, believing in the sincerity of yours, lamented, though I did not condemn, your renunciation of the creed I had adopted. Nor do I think any person or power ought to do it, whilst your conduct is not opposed to the general interest of the people, and the measures they are pursuing; the latter, that is, our actions, depending upon ourselves, may be controlled, while the powers of thinking, originating in higher causes, cannot always be moulded to our wishes.
The determinations of Providence are always wise, often inscrutable; and, though its decrees appear to bear hard upon us at times, is nevertheless meant for gracious purposes. In this light I cannot help viewing your late disappointment; for if you had been permitted to have gone to England, unrestrained even by the rigid oaths, which are administered on those occasions, your feelings as a husband, parent &c, must have been considerably wounded in the prospect of a long, perhaps lasting, separation from your nearest relatives. What then must they have been, if the obligation of an oath had left you without a will? Your hope of being instrumental in restoring peace would prove as unsubstantial, as mist before the noon-day’s sun, and would as soon dispel; for, believe me, Sir, Great Britain understood herself perfectly well in this dispute, but did not comprehend America. She meant, as Lord Camden, in his late speech in Parliament, clearly and explicitly declared, to drive America into rebellion, that her own purposes might be more fully answered by it; but take this along with it, that this plan originated in a firm belief, founded on misinformation, that no effectual opposition would or could be made. They little dreamt of what has happened, and are disappointed in their views.1
Does not every act of Administration, from the Tea Act to the present session of Parliament, declare this in plain and self-evident characters? Had the commissioners any power to treat with America? If they meant peace, would Lord Howe have been detained in England five months after passing the act? Would the powers of these commissioners have been confined to mere acts of grace, upon condition of absolute submission? No! surely, no! They meant to drive us into what they termed rebellion, that they might be furnished with a pretext to disarm, and then strip us of the rights and privileges of Englishmen and citizens.
If they were actuated by the principles of justice, why did they refuse indignantly to accede to the terms, which were humbly supplicated before hostilities commenced, and this country deluged in blood; and now make their principal officers, and even the commissioners themselves, say that these terms are just and reasonable; nay, that more will be granted, than we have yet asked, if we will relinquish our claim to independency? What name does such conduct as this deserve? And what punishment is there in store for the men, who have distressed millions, involved thousands in ruin, and plunged numberless families in inextricable woe? Could that, which is just and reasonable now, have been unjust four years ago? If not, upon what principles, I say, does Administration act? They must either be wantonly wicked and cruel, or (which is only another mode of describing the same thing) under false colors are now endeavoring to deceive the great body of the people, by industriously propagating a belief, that Great Britain is willing to offer any, and that we will accept of no terms; thereby hoping to poison and disaffect the minds of those, who wish for peace, and create feuds and dissensions among ourselves. In a word, having less dependence now in their arms than their arts, they are practising such low and dirty tricks, that men of sentiment and honor must blush at their villainy. Among other manœuvres in this way, they are counterfeiting letters, and publishing them as intercepted ones of mine, to prove that I am an enemy to the present measures, and have been led into them step by step, still hoping that Congress would recede from their present claims. I am, dear Sir, your most obedient and affectionate, &c.1
[2 ]An early and intimate friendship subsisted between Washington and Bryan Fairfax, which does not appear to have been at any period of their lives interrupted, although they differed widely in their political sentiments. Mr. Fairfax, differing from the majority of his countrymen and from his friends, thought it his duty to go to England and remain there during the contest. With this aim he repaired to New York, having obtained a passport from the Commander-in-chief. But when he arrived there, he was diverted from his purpose by having certain oaths prescribed to him, which his conscience would not allow him to take, being afraid they might prevent him from ever again seeing his wife and children. This hesitancy excited a prejudice against him, which he thought unreasonable, and he obtained permission from the British commander to return to his family. On his journey he again visited General Washington, and was received by him with so much kindness, and such marked civilities, that he wrote him a letter of acknowledgments and thanks soon after he reached Virginia, to which the above is a reply. In that letter he said:
[1 ]The allusion here is to Lord Camden’s remarks, in the debate respecting the reply to the King’s Speech at the opening of Parliament, November 18, 1777. The debate turned on American affairs, the causes of the dispute, and the mode in which the war had been conducted. Lord Camden, referring to some of the preliminary steps in the contest, said: “The people of America showed great dissatisfaction, but that did not fully answer the intentions of government. It was not dissatisfaction, but rebellion, that was sought; dissatisfaction might furnish a pretence for adding to the intolerable oppressions, that those people had for a series of years groaned under; but nothing short of something in the shape of rebellion, or nearly approaching to it, could create a decent apology for slaughter, conquest, and unconditional submission.” Again, in regard to the address declaring Massachusetts Bay to be in rebellion, Lord Camden continued: “But all this did not do; the New Englanders were resolved not to verify the address; they were determined not to be rebels; but only to prepare, should the worst happen, to be in a situation to defend themselves. Something more was still wanting, and that was obtained. Our troops were ordered to act effectively; and self-defence was styled actual and declared rebellion.”—Almon’s Parliamentary Register, vol. x., pp. 30, 31.
[1 ]“The Commander in Chief again takes occasion to return his warmest thanks to the virtuous officers and soldiery of this army, for that persevering fidelity and zeal which they have uniformly manifested in all their conduct. Their fortitude, not only under the common hardships incident to a military life, but also under the additional sufferings to which the peculiar situation of these States has exposed them, clearly proves them worthy of the enviable privilege of contending for the rights of human nature, the freedom and independence of their country. The recent instance of uncomplaining patience during the scarcity of provisions in Camp, is a fresh proof that they possess in an eminent degree the spirit of soldiers and the magnanimity of patriots. The few refractory individuals who disgrace themselves by murmurs, it is to be hoped have repented such unmanly behavior, and resolved to emulate the noble example of their associates upon every trial which the customary casualties of war may hereafter throw in their way. Occasional distress for want of provisions and other necessaries, is a spectacle that frequently occurs in every army, and perhaps there never was one which has been in general so plentifully supplied in respect to the former as ours. Surely we who are free citizens in arms, engaged in a struggle for everything valuable in society, and partaking in the glorious task of laying the foundation of an empire should scorn effeminately to shrink under those accidents and rigors of war which mercenary hirelings, fighting in the cause of lawless ambition, rapine and devastation, encounter with cheerfulness and alacrity. We should not merely be equal, we should be superior to them in every qualification that dignifies the man or the soldier, in proportion as the motives from which we act and the final hopes of our toils are superior to theirs. Thank Heaven, our country abounds with provisions and with prudent management, we need not apprehend want for any length of time. Defects in the commissary’s department, contingencies of weather, and other temporary impediments, have subjected, and may again subject us to a deficiency for a few days, but soldiers, American soldiers, will despise the means of repining at such trifling strokes of adversity, trifling indeed when compared with the transcendent prize which will undoubtedly crown their patience and perseverance—Glory and freedom, peace and plenty to themselves and the community, the admiration of the world, the love of their country and the gratitude of posterity. Your general unceasingly employs his tho’ts on the means of relieving your distresses, supplying your wants, and bringing your labors to a speedy and prosperous issue. Our parent country, he hopes, will second his endeavors by the most vigorous exertions, and he is convinced the faithful officers and soldiers associated with him in the great work of rescuing our country from bondage and misery, will continue in the display of that patriotic zeal which is capable of smoothing every difficulty and vanquishing every obstacle.”—Orderly Book, 1 March, 1778.