Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JOHN PARKE CUSTIS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO JOHN PARKE CUSTIS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VIII (1779-1780).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO JOHN PARKE CUSTIS.
West Point, 24 August, 1779.
In answer to your letter of the 11th inst:—I candidly acknowledge I am at a loss what advice to give you, with precision, respecting the sale of your estate upon the eastern shore; but, upon the whole, in the present uncertain state of things, should, were I in your place, postpone the measure a while longer.
Your own observation must have convinced you of the rapid depreciation of the paper currency in the course of the last ten months, and this it will continue to do till there is a stop put to further emissions, and till some vigorous measures are adopted by the states respectively and collectively to lessen the circulating medium. You must be sensible that it is not forty thousand pounds, nor four hundred thousand, nor any nominal sum whatever, that would give you the value of the land in Northampton. Instance your unfortunate sale of the York estate to Colonel Braxton for twenty thousand pounds, which, I suppose, would now fetch one hundred thousand pounds, and unless, for the purpose of speculating in that or some other article, this sum, I am persuaded, would be refused by that gentleman. The present profit of your land on the Eastern shore may be trifling,—nay, I will admit that at this time, it is an encumbrance to you,—but still it retains in itself an intrinsic and real value, which rises nominally in proportion to the depreciation, and will always be valuable, if, (admitting the worst) the money should cease to pass. But, though the event is not probable, I will suppose that to be the case, or that it should continue to depreciate, as it has done, for the last ten months, where are you then? Bereft of your land, and in possession of a large sum of money that will neither buy victuals nor clothes—
There are but two motives which ought, and, I trust, can induce you to sell; the one is to invest the money in the purchase of something else of equal value immediately; the other, to place it in the public funds. If the first is your object, I have no hesitation in giving my opinion in favor of the sale; because lands at so great a distance from you never will be profitable, and your only consideration is to be careful in your bargains elsewhere, making the prices of the thing sold and the things bought correspond with respect to times and places. In fact, this is but another name for barter or exchange; but, when the other is your inducement, the whole matter turns upon the credit and appreciation of the money, and these again upon financing, loans, taxes, war, peace, good success, bad success, the arts of designing men, mode of redemption, and other contingent events, which, in my judgment, very few men see far enough into to justify a capital risk; consequently you would be playing a hazardous, and possibly, in the issue, a ruinous game, for the chance of having sold at the turn of the tide, as it were, when there is not much fear of foregoing this advantage by any sudden appreciation of our money. In a word, by holding your land a few months longer, you can only lose the taxes; by selling, to place the money in the fund, you may lose considerably. Selling to buy, as I have before said, I consider as an exchange only; but then both bargains should be made at the same time. This was my advice to you before, and I now repeat it; otherwise the purchases you have in contemplation may rise fifty per cent. between your sale and the final accomplishment of them.
I observe what you say also respecting payment of your old bonds, and have less scruple in giving it to you as my opinion that you are not bound, in honor or by any principle of reason or love to your country, to accept payment of such as are upon demand, and were given previous to the contest and to the depreciation of the money at the present nominal value of it, by which a just debt, and where great indulgences have been shown the creditor in forbearance, is discharged at the rate of a shilling in the pound. Every man who is a friend to the cause is to receive the money in all payments, and to give it a circulation, as free as the air he breathes in; but it is absurd and repugnant to every principle of honor, honesty, and common sense, to say that one man shall receive a shilling in the pound of another for a just debt when that other is well able to pay twenty shillings, and the same means which enabled him to pay the one formerly will enable him, with as much ease, to pay the other now.
It is necessary for me to premise that I am totally unacquainted with your laws on this head, and the consequences of a refusal. I am only arguing, therefore in behalf of the reason and justice of my opinion, and on the presumption that all law is founded in equity. The end and design, therefore, of this (if there is such a one as compels payment under certain penalties and forfeitures) could only be to give credit and circulation to the bills in all payments, not to enrich one man at the ruin of another, which is most manifestly the case at present, and is such a glaring abuse of common justice that I can not but wonder at the practice obtaining.
Our affairs, at present, put on a pleasing aspect, especially in Europe and the West Indies,1 and bids us, I think, hope for the certain and final accomplishment of our independence. But as peace depends upon our allies equally with ourselves, and Great Britain has refused the mediation of Spain, it will puzzle, I conceive, the best politicians to point out with certainty the limitation of our warfare.
Experience, which is the best rule to walk by, has, I am told, clearly proved the utility of having the ditch for draining of sunken grounds on the inside, and at a considerable distance (for instance, two shovels’ throw) from the bank, consequently is a better criterion to judge from than the simple opinion of your ditcher, who may govern himself by the practice of other countries that will not apply to the circumstances of this, when there may be enemies to our banks unknown, perhaps, to them. * * *
[1 ]D’Estaing had taken Grenada and St. Vincent.