Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO PRESIDENT REED. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
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TO PRESIDENT REED. - 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 PRESIDENT REED.
Morristown, May 28, 1780.
I am obliged to you for your favor of the 23d.
Nothing could be more necessary, than the aid given by your State towards supplying us with provision. I assure you, every idea you can form of our distresses will fall short of the reality. There is such a combination of circumstances to exhaust the patience of the soldiery, that it begins at length to be worn out, and we see in every line of the army the most serious features of mutiny and sedition. All our departments, all our operations, are at a stand; and unless a system, very different from that which for a long time prevailed, be immediately adopted throughout the States, our affairs must soon become desperate beyond the possibility of recovery. If you were on the spot, my dear Sir, if you could see what difficulties surround us on every side, how unable we are to administer to the most ordinary calls of the service, you would be convinced, that these expressions are not too strong, and that we have almost ceased to hope. The country in general is in such a state of insensibility and indifference to its interest, that I dare not flatter myself with any change for the better.
The committee of Congress, in their late address to the several States, have given a just picture of our situation. I very much doubt its making the desired impression; and, if it does not, I shall consider our lethargy as incurable. The present juncture is so interesting, that if it does not produce correspondent exertions, it will be a proof that motives of honor, public good, and even self-preservation, have lost their influence upon our minds. This is a decisive moment; one of the most, (I will go further and say, the most) important America has seen. The court of France has made a glorious effort for our deliverance, and if we disappoint its intentions by our supineness, we must become contemptible in the eyes of all mankind; nor can we after that venture to confide, that our allies will persist in an attempt to establish what it will appear we want inclination or ability to assist them in.
Every view of our own circumstances ought to determine us to the most vigorous efforts; but there are considerations of another kind, that should have equal weight.—The combined fleets of France and Spain last year were greatly superior to those of the enemy.—The enemy nevertheless sustained no material damage, and at the close of the campaign have given a very important blow to our allies. This campaign the difference between the fleets, from every account I have been able to collect, will be very inconsiderable. Indeed it is far from clear, that there will not be an equality.—What are we to expect will be the case, if there should be another campaign? In all probability the advantage will be on the side of the English. And then what would become of America? We ought not to deceive ourselves. The maritime resources of Great Britain are more substantial and real, than those of France and Spain united. Her commerce is more extensive, than that of both her rivals; and it is an axiom, that the nation which has the most extensive commerce will always have the most powerful marine. Were this argument less convincing, the fact speaks for itself. Her progress in the course of the last year is an incontestable proof.
It is true, France in a manner created a Fleet in a very short space, and this may mislead us in the judgment we form of her naval abilities. But, if they bore any comparison with those of Great Britain, how comes it to pass, that, with all the force of Spain added, she has lost so much ground in so short a time, as now to have scarcely a superiority? We should consider what was done by France, as a violent and unnatural effort of the government, which, for want of sufficient foundation, cannot continue to operate proportionable effects.
In modern wars, the longest purse must chiefly determine the event. I fear that of the enemy will be found to be so. Though the government is deeply in debt, and of course poor, the Nation is rich, and their riches afford a fund, which will not be easily exhausted. Besides, their system of public credit is such, that it is capable of greater exertion than that of any other nation. Speculatists have been a long time foretelling its downfall; but we see no symptoms of the catastrophe being very near. I am persuaded that it will at least last out the war, and then in the opinion of many of the best politicians it will be a national advantage. If the war should terminate successfully, the crown will have acquired such influence and power, that it may attempt any thing; and a bankruptcy will probably be made a ladder to climb to absolute authority. Administration may perhaps wish to drive matters to this issue. At any rate they will not be restrained, by an apprehension of it, from forcing the resources of the state. It will promote their present purposes, on which their all is at stake, and it may pave the way to triumph more effectually over the constitution. With this disposition I have no doubt that ample means will be found to prosecute the war with the greatest vigor.
France is in a very different position. The abilities of her present financier has done wonders. By a wise administration of the revenues, aided by advantageous loans, he has avoided the necessity of additional taxes; but I am well informed, if the war continues another campaign, he will be obliged to have recourse to the taxes usual in time of war, which are very heavy; and which the people of France are not in a condition to endure for any duration. When this necessity commences, France makes war on ruinous terms, and England, from her individual wealth, will find much greater facility in supplying her exigencies.
Spain derives great wealth from her mines, but not so great as is generally imagined. Of late years the profit to government is essentially diminished. Commerce and industry are the best means of a nation; both which are wanting to her. I am told her treasury is far from being so well filled as we have flattered ourselves. She is also much divided on the propriety of the war. There is a strong party against it. The temper of the nation is too sluggish to admit of great exertions; and, though the Courts of the two Kingdoms are closely linked together, there never has been in any of their wars a perfect harmony of measures, nor has it been the case in this; which has already been no small detriment to the common cause.
I mention these things to show, that the circumstances of our allies, as well as our own, call for peace; to obtain which we must make one great effort this campaign. The present instance of the friendship of the court of France is attended with every circumstance, that can render it important and agreeable, that can interest our gratitude or fire our emulation. If we do our duty, we may even hope to make the campaign decisive on this continent. But we must do our duty in earnest, or disgrace and ruin will attend us. I am sincere in declaring a full persuasion, that the succor will be fatal to us, if our measures are not adequate to the emergency.1
Now, my dear Sir, I must observe to you, that much will depend on the State of Pennsylvania. She has it in her power to contribute, without comparison, more to our success than any other State, in the two essential articles of flour and transportation. New York, Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are our flour countries. Virginia went little on this article the last crop, (and her resources are called for to the southward). New York, by Legislative coercion, has already given all she could spare for the use of the army. Her inhabitants are left with scarcely a sufficiency for their own subsistence. Jersey, from being so long the place of the army’s residence, is equally exhausted. Maryland has made great exertions, but she can still do something more. Delaware may contribute handsomely in proportion to her extent. But Pennsylvania is our chief dependence. From every information I can obtain, she is at this time full of flour. I speak to you in the language of frankness and as a friend. I do not mean to make any insinuations unfavorable to the State. I am aware of the embarrassment the government labors under, from the open opposition of one party and the underhand intrigues of another. I know that, with the best dispositions to promote the public service, you have been obliged to move with circumspection. But this is a time to hazard and to take a tone of energy and decision. All parties but the disaffected will acquiesce in the necessity and give their support. The hopes and fears of the people at large may be acted upon in such a manner, as to make them approve and second your views. The matter is reduced to a point. Either Pennsylvania must give us all the aid we ask of her, or we can undertake nothing. We must renounce every idea of coöperation, and must confess to our allies, that we look wholly to them for our safety. This will be a state of humiliation and littleness, against which the feelings of every good American ought to revolt. Yours I am convinced will; nor have I the least doubt, that you will employ all your influence to animate the legislature and the people at large. The fate of these States hangs upon it. God grant we may be properly impressed with the consequences.
I wish the legislature could be engaged to vest the executive with Plenipotentiary powers. I should then expect every thing practicable from your abilities and zeal. This is not a time for formality or ceremony. The crisis, in every point of view, is extraordinary; and extraordinary expedients are necessary. I am decided in this opinion.1 I am happy to hear, that you have a prospect of complying with the requisitions of Congress for specific supplies; that the spirit of the City and State seems to revive, and the warmth of party decline. These are good omens of our success. Perhaps this is the proper period to unie. I am obliged to you for the renewal of your assurances of personal regard. My sentiments for you, you are too well acquainted with to make it necessary to tell you with how much esteem and regard I am, dr. Sir, &c.
P. S.—I felicitate you on the increase of your family. Mrs. Washington does the same, and begs her particular respects and congratulations to Mrs. Reed to which permit me to add mine.
[1 ]A letter in these very words was also written to Benjamin Harrison. See Washington to Joseph Jones, 22 July, 1780.
[1 ]“I understand they [the legislature of Pennsylvania] have invested the Executive with a dictatorial authority from which nothing but the lives of their citizens are exempted. I hope the good resulting from it will be such as to compensate for the risk of the precedent.”—Madison to Jefferson, 2 June, 1780.