Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JOHN PARKE CUSTIS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
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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).
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TO JOHN PARKE CUSTIS.
Morristown, 20 January, 1780.
I should have acknowledged the receipt of your letter of the twelfth ult. long since, but for the many important matters which have claimed my attention.
My letter which missed you on its passage to Williamsburg, will acquaint you (as there is little doubt of its having got to hand long ere this) of the footing I proposed to put the valuation of the cattle upon that you had of me. I only wished to hear upon what principle Colonel Bassett acted, as I thought it ungenteel to give a gentleman the trouble of performing a service, and disregard it so much afterwards as not even to inquire upon what grounds he went. As I want nothing but justice, and this being your aim, it is scarce possible for us to disagree; but there is one thing which ought to be held in remembrance, and I mention it accordingly, and that is, that I should get no more real value for my cattle at £40 apiece, payable in the fall of 1779, than I should have got @ £10 the preceding fall, provided the money had been then paid. For example, you could have got two barrels of corn in 1778 for £10, and I can get no more now for £40. With respect to other things it is the same. It would be very hard, therefore, by keeping me out of the use of the money a year, to reduce the debt three-fourths of the original value—which is evidently the case, because the difference between specie and paper, in the fall of 1778, was about four to one only—now the difference is upwards of thirty; consequently, ten pounds paid at that period was equal to 50 shillings good money; but paid at this day, is not worth, nor will it fetch more than a dollar. Had the money been paid, and put into the loan office at the time you say the cattle ought to have been valued, I should have received a proportionate interest—that is, as the money depreciated the nominal sum for the interest would, by a resolve of Congress, have increased, and I should have got the real value in the interest: whereas, if you pay me £10 in loan office certificates of this date for my cattle, I shall receive for every £10 or 50s., which is the relative worth of it, according to the then difference of exchange, one dollar and no more.
These are self evident truths; and nothing, in my opinion, is more just and reasonable, if you can come at, and do fix the value of the cattle at what they were worth in the fall of 1778, and would then have been appraised at, that you should pay loan office certificates of that date; for had you paid me the money at that time, I should have lent it to the public, if there had been no other use for it, as, it is not a custom with me to keep money to look at.
This reasoning may, in part, be considered as an answer to so much of your letter of the twelfth of December, as relates to the payment of the annuity for the dower estate. You do not seem disposed to make the just and proper distinction between real and nominal sums. A dollar is but a dollar, whether it passed in silver at 6s., or paper at £6, or sixty pounds. The nominal value, or the name, is but an empty sound, and you might as well attempt to pay me in oak leaves, with which I can purchase nothing, as to give me paper money that has not a relative value to the rent agreed on.
If you have been unfortunate in your crops, or in the means of raising money from your estate, I am sorry for it, and do not by any means wish to put you to an inconveniency in paying the rent at this time which became due the first of this month. It may lie till my wants, or your convenience is greater, but as it was certainly the expectation of us both that this annuity was to be raised and paid out of the produce of your crops, a moment’s reflection and calculation must convince you that it is full as easy to do it at this day, (if you have those crops,) as at any period before or since the war began, because the difference between the old and present prices of every article raised upon a plantation or farm, bears at least an equal proportion to the difference between specie and paper. It is a matter of little consequence then, whether you pay £30 in paper, or 20s. in specie, when the same quantity of corn, wheat, tobacco, or any other article you possess will fetch the former with more ease now, than it would the latter in the best of times.
The fact is, that the real difference, between the prices of all kinds of country produce now and before the war, is greater than between specie and paper. The latter in Philadelphia, being about thirty, when it is well known that the former, in many things, is at least a hundred, and in scarce any article less than forty. Witness flour, wheat, Indian corn, &c., which are the great articles of produce of every Virginia estate. It is the unusualness of the idea, and high sound which alarms you in this business; for supposing the difference to be thirty prices, and in consequence you pay £15,750, I neither get nor do you pay a farthing more than £525, because as I have already observed, less corn, wheat, &c., will enable you to pay the former now, than it would take to pay the latter while they were at their old and accustomed prices—calling the sum, therefore, which you pay to me £15,750 or £525, is a matter of moonshine, as it is the thing not the name, that is to be regarded.
I have wrote to Mr. Lund Washington concerning Sheredine’s point, and am in some doubt whether the strip of land will compensate the expense of the bank which must be lengthy. I have left it to him, however, to determine this matter, and to apply for the ditchers, (who were about to leave you) if he should want them. If your banks are not properly executed, it is to be feared you will find more plague from the musk rats and other vermin than you seem to apprehend, when the warm weather returns.
I am glad to hear that your assembly are disposed to exert themselves in the great work of appreciation, I heartily wish them success in the attempt. We have nothing new in this quarter. The weather has been, and now is intensely cold, and we are beginning to emerge from the greatest distress on account of the want of provisions.1
My love to Nelly and the children, and I am sincerely and affectionately yours.
[1 ]“Indeed all the counties of this State, from which I have heard, have attended to my requisitions for provision with the most cheerful and commendable zeal. What we shall obtain in this manner, in conjunction with the steps taken by Congress, and the States from which we are principally furnished with provisions, will, I flatter myself, secure us from a recurrence of the evil. With regard to your suggestion for making the certificates given on this occasion a tender for the taxes for Continental purposes, I do not consider myself at liberty to propose any particular mode to Congress. I shall, however, as the good people of the State have been so zealous and liberal in relieving our wants, take the freedom to mention the policy of discharging them as early as possible.”—Washington to John Witherspoon, 20 January, 1780.