Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO HENRY LAURENS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VII (1778-1779)
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TO HENRY LAURENS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VII (1778-1779) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VII (1778-1779).
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TO HENRY LAURENS.
Camp, nearWhite Plains,
I had yesterday the pleasure to receive your favor of the 18th instant, with the enclosure and packets which you mentioned.
I should have been sorry, if you or Monsieur Gerard had found the smallest difficulty in recommending the packets for the Count d’Estaing to my care; and I am happy to inform you, that they will meet with a speedy and safe conveyance to him by an officer, who has set off for Rhode Island.
It is very pleasing as well as interesting to hear, that prizes are already finding their way into the Delaware. The event seems the more agreeable, as that navigation, but yesterday as it were, could scarcely contain the enemy’s fleet and their numerous captures, which were constantly crowding in. Happy change! and I should hope, that the two prizes, which have entered, will be succeeded by many more. The want of information, on the one hand of Philadelphia’s being evacuated, and the countenance which our armed vessels will derive from the French squadron on our coasts must throw several into our possession.
The second epistle from the commissioners, of which you have so obligingly favored me with a copy, strikes me in the same point of view that it did you. It is certainly puerile; and does not border a little on indecorum, notwithstanding their professions of the regard they wish to pay to decency. It is difficult to determine on an extensive scale, tho’ part of their design is tolerably obvious, what the gentlemen would be at. Had I the honor of being a member of Congress, I do not know how I might feel upon the occasion; but it appears to me the performance must be received with a sort of indignant pleasantry, on account of its manner on the one hand, and on the other as being truly typical of that confusion in which their prince and nation are.1
By the time this reaches you, I expect the Messieurs Neuville2 will be in Philadelphia. From the certificates these gentlemen have provided, if I may hazard a conjecture, they are in quest of promotion, particularly the elder. How far their views may extend, I cannot determine; but I dare predict, that they will be sufficiently high. My present intention is to tell you, and with freedom I do it, that Congress cannot be well too cautious on this head. I do not mean or wish to derogate from the merit of Messieurs Neuville. The opportunities I have had will not permit me to speak decisively for or against it. However, I may observe, from a certificate which I have seen, written by themselves, or at least by one of them, and signed by General Parsons, probably through surprise or irresolution, that they are not bad at giving themselves a good character; and I will further add, if they meet with any great promotion, I am fully convinced it will be ill borne by our own officers, and that it will be the cause of infinite discontent. The ambition of these men (I do not mean of the Messrs. Neuville in particular, but of the natives of their country and foreigners in general) is unlimited and unbounded; and the similar instances of rank, which have been conferred upon them in but too many cases, have occasioned general dissatisfaction and general complaint. The feelings of our own officers have been much hurt by it, and their ardor and love for the service greatly damped. Should a like proceeding still be practised, it is not easy to say what extensive murmurings and consequences may ensue. I will further add, that we have already a full proportion of foreign officers in our general councils; and, should their number be increased, it may happen upon many occasions, that their voices may be equal if not exceed the rest. I trust you think me so much a citizen of the world, as to believe I am not easily warped or led away by attachments merely local or American; yet I confess I am not entirely without ’em, nor does it appear to me that they are unwarrantable, if confined within proper limits. Fewer promotions in the foreign line would have been productive of more harmony, and made our warfare more agreeable to all parties. The frequency of them is the source of jealousy and of disunion. We have many, very many, deserving officers, who are not opposed to merit wheresoever it is found, nor insensible to the advantages derived from a long service in an experienced army, nor to the principles of policy. Where any of these principles mark the way to rank, I am persuaded they yield a becoming and willing acquiescence; but, where they are not the basis, they feel severely. I will dismiss the subject, knowing that with you I need not labor, either in a case of justice or of policy. I am, &c.
P. S. The Baron Steuben will also be in Philadelphia in a day or two. The ostensible cause for his going is to fix more certainly with Congress his duties as inspector-general, which is necessary. However, I am disposed to believe that the real one is to obtain an actual command in the line as a major-general, and he may urge a competition set up by Monsieur Neuville for the inspector’s place on this side of the Hudson, and the denial by him of the Baron’s authority, as an argument to effect it, and the granting him the post, as a mean of satisfying both. I regard and I esteem the Baron, as an assiduous, intelligent, and experienced officer; but you may rely on it, if such is his view, and he should accomplish it, we shall have the whole line of brigadiers in confusion. They have said but little about his rank as major-general, as he has not had an actual command over ’em. But when we marched from Brunswic, as there were but few major-generals, and almost the whole of the brigadiers engaged at the court-martial, either as members or witnesses, I appointed him pro tempore, and so expressed it in orders, to conduct a wing to the North River. This measure, though founded in evident necessity, and not designed to produce to the brigadiers the least possible injury, excited great uneasiness, and has been the source of complaint. The truth is, we have been very unhappy in a variety of appointments, and our own officers much injured. Their feelings, from this cause, have become extremely sensitive, and the most delicate touch gives them pain. I write as a friend, and therefore with freedom. The Baron’s services in the line he occupies can be singular, and the testimonials he has already received are honorable. It will also be material to have the point of the inspector-generalship, now in question between him and Monsieur Neuville, adjusted. The appointment of the latter, it is said, calls him Inspector-general in the army commanded by General Gates, and under this, as I am informed, he denies any subordination to the Baron, and will not know him in his official capacity. There can be but one head. With sentiments of warm regard and esteem, I am, &c.1
[1 ]President Laurens had written, respecting the commissioners’ second letter to Congress: “If I dared to venture an opinion from a very cursory reading of the performance, it would be, that this is more puerile than any thing I have seen from the other side since the commencement of our present dispute, with a little dash of insolence, as unnecessary as it will be unavailing.” The puerile part of the letter is that in which the commissioners attempt to evade the positive requisition of Congress, as a preliminary of a negotiation, namely, an acknowledgment of independence, or a withdrawal of the King’s fleets and armies. They consent neither to the one nor the other, and yet contend that Congress may proceed to negotiate according to their own principles. The indecorous and offensive part is that, wherein the commissioners demand by what authority the Congress assume the prerogative of making treaties with foreign nations, and claim a right to be informed of the particulars contained in the treaty with France, intimating that the same ought also to be known to the people, that they might judge whether such an alliance ought to be a reason for continuing the war. Congress voted, that no answer should be returned to the letter, and ordered it to be published.—Journals, July 18th. See the letter of the commissioners in the Remembrancer, vol. vii., p. 11.
[2 ]Chevalier de Laneuville, and his brother Noirmont Laneuville.
[1 ]Steuben’s position is described in Hamilton to Boudinot, 26 July, 1778.