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1785. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XI (1785-1790).
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TO JAMES WARREN.
Mount Vernon, 7 October, 1785.
The assurances of your friendship, after a silence of more than six years, are extremely pleasing to me. Friendship, formed under the circumstances that ours commenced are not easily eradicated; and I can assure you, that mine has undergone no diminution. Every occasion, therefore, of renewing it will give me pleasure, and I shall be happy at all times to hear of your welfare.
The war, as you have very justly observed, has terminated most advantageously for America, and a fair field is presented to our view; but I confess to you freely, my dear Sir, that I do not think we possess wisdom or justice enough to cultivate it properly. Illiberality, jealousy, and local policy mix too much in all our public councils for the good government of the Union. In a word, the confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance, and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me it is a solecism in politics, indeed it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation who are the creatures of our making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action and recallable at any moment, and are subject to all the evils, which they may be instrumental in producing, sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy as this the wheels of government are clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation, which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment; and from the high ground on which we stood, we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness.
That we have it in our power to become one of the most respectable nations upon earth, admits, in my humble opinion, of no doubt, if we would but pursue a wise, just, and liberal policy towards one another, and keep good faith with the rest of the world. That our resources are ample and increasing, none can deny; but, while they are grudgingly applied, or not applied at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and shall sink, in the eyes of Europe, into contempt.
It has long been a speculative question among philosophers and wise men, whether foreign commerce is of real advantage to any country; that is, whether the luxury, effeminacy, and corruptions, which are introduced along with it, are counterbalanced by the convenience and wealth which it brings with it. But the decision of this question is of very little importance to us. We have abundant reason to be convinced, that the spirit for trade, which pervades these States, is not to be restrained. It behoves us then to establish just principles; and this, any more than other matters of national concern, cannot be done by thirteen heads differently constructed and organized. The necessity, therefore, of a controlling power is obvious; and why it should be withheld is beyond my comprehension.
The Agricultural Society, lately established in Philadelphia, promises extensive usefulness, if it is prosecuted with spirit. I wish most sincerely, that every State in the Union would institute similar ones; and that these societies would correspond fully and freely with each other, and communicate all useful discoveries founded on practice, with a due attention to climate, soil, and seasons to the public.
* * * It would afford me great pleasure to go over those grounds in your State, with a mind more at ease than when I travelled them in 1775 and 1776, and to unite in congratulating on the happy change with those characters, who participated of the anxious moments we passed in those days, and for whom I entertain a sincere regard; but I do not know whether to flatter myself with the enjoyment of it. The deranged state of my affairs, from an absence and total neglect of them for almost nine years, and a pressure of other matters, allow me little leisure for gratifications of this sort. Mrs. Washington offers her compliments and best wishes to Mrs. Warren, to which be pleased to add those of, dear Sir, yours, &c.
TO PATRICK HENRY, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA,
Mount Vernon, 29 October, 1785.
Your Excellency having been pleased to transmit to me a copy of the act, appropriating to my benefit certain shares in the companies for opening the navigation of James and Potomac Rivers, I take the liberty of returning to the General Assembly, through your hands, the profound and grateful acknowledgments inspired by so signal a mark of their beneficent intentions towards me. I beg you, Sir, to assure them, that I am filled on this occasion with every sentiment, which can flow from a heart warm with love for my country, sensible to every token of its approbation and affection, and solicitous to testify in every instance a respectful submission to its wishes.
With these sentiments in my bosom, I need not dwell on the anxiety I feel in being obliged in this instance to decline a favor, which is rendered no less flattering by the manner in which it is conveyed, than it is affectionate in itself. In explaining this observation I pass over a comparison of my endeavors in the public service with the many honorable testimonies of approbation, which have already so far overrated and overpaid them; reciting one consideration only, which supersedes the necessity of recurring to every other.
When I was first called to the station, with which I was honored during the late conflict for our liberties, to the diffidence which I had so many reasons to feel in accepting it, I thought it my duty to join a firm resolution to shut my hand against every pecuniary recompense. To this resolution I have invariably adhered, and from it, if I had the inclination, I do not feel at liberty now to depart.
Whilst I repeat, therefore, my fervent acknowledgments to the legislature for their very kind sentiments and intentions in my favor, and at the same time beg them to be persuaded, that a remembrance of this singular proof of their goodness towards me will never cease to cherish returns of the warmest affection and gratitude, I must pray that their act, so far as it has for its object my personal emolument, may not have its effect. But if it should please the General Assembly to permit me to turn the destination of the fund vested in me, from my private emolument, to objects of a public nature, it will be my study in selecting these to prove the sincerity of my gratitude for the honor conferred on me, by preferring such as may appear most subservient to the enlightened and patriotic views of the legislature. With great respect and consideration, I have the honor to be, &c.1
TO GEORGE WILLIAM FAIRFAX.
Mount Vernon, 10 November, 1785.
My Dear Sir,
* * * * * *
The two youngest children of Mr. Custis—the oldest a girl of six years—the other a boy a little turned of four live with me. They are both promising children; but the latter is a remarkable fine one—and my intention is to give him a liberal education; the rudiments of which shall, if I live, be in my own family.—Having promised this, let me next, my good Sir, ask if it is in your power conveniently, to engage a proper preceptor for him?—at present, and for a year or two to come, much confinement would be improper for him; but this being the period in which I should derive more aid from a man of Letters and an accomptant than at any other, to assist me in my numerous correspondences, and to extricate the latter from the disordered state into which they have been thrown by the war, I could usefully employ him in this manner until his attention should be more immediately required for his pupil.—
Fifty or Sixty pounds Sterling pr. Ann. with board, lodging, washing and mending, in the family, is the most my numerous expenditures will allow me to give; but how far it may command the services of a person well qualified to answer the purposes I have mentioned, is not for me to decide. To answer my purposes, the Gentleman must be a master of composition, and a good accomptant:—to answer his pupil’s, he must be a classical scholar, and capable of teaching the French language grammatically:—the more universal his knowledge is, the better.—
It sometimes happens that very worthy men of the cloth come under this description; men who are advanced in years, and not very comfortable in their circumstances. Such an one, if unencumbered with a family, would be more agreeable to me than a young man just from college—but I except none of good moral character answering my description, if he can be well recommended.—
To you my Dr. Sir, I have offered this my first address; but if you should think my purposes cannot be subserved in your circle, upon the terms here mentioned; I beg, in that case, that you will be so obliging as to forward the enclosed letter as it is directed.—This gentleman has written to me upon another subject, & favored me with his lucubrations upon Education, which mark him a man of abilities, at the same time that he is highly spoken of as a teacher, and a person of good character. In Scotland we all know that Education is cheap, and wages not so high as in England:—but I would prefer, on account of the dialect, an Englishman to a Scotchman, for all the purposes I want.
We have commenced our operations on the navigation of this river; and I am happy to inform you, that the difficulties rather vanish than increase as we proceed.—James river is under similar circumstances; and a cut between the waters of Albermarle in No. Carolina, and Elizabeth river in this State, is also in contemplation—and if the whole is effected and I see nothing to prevent it, it will give the greatest and most advantageous inland Navigation to this Country of any in the Union—or I believe, in the world:—for as the Shannondoah, the South branch, Monocasy and Conogocheague are equally capable of great improvement, they will no doubt be immediately attempted; and more than probable a communication by good roads will be opened with the waters to the westward of us; by means of the No. Branch of Potomac, which interlocks with the Cheat river and Yohoghaney (branches of the Monongahela) that empty into the Ohio at Fort Pitt.—The same is equally practicable between James river and the Greenbriar a branch of the Great Kanhawa, which empties into the same river, 300 miles below that place; by means whereof the whole trade of that Territory which is now unfolding to our view, may be drawn into this State—equally productive of political as commercial advantages.
As I never ride to my plantations without seeing something which makes one regret having continued so long in the ruinous mode of farming, which we are in; I beg leave, tho’ I am persuaded it will give you trouble, to recall your attention to the request of my former letter, the duplicate of which you now have.—Miscarriages, and where this is not the case, delays of letters must be my apology for reiterating the matter, that there may be time for decision, before the intervention of another year.
The marriage mentioned in my last is celebrated, but a fit of the gout prevented Colo. Bassett from beeing at it—consequently I am to lay a little longer out of your kind present. Mrs. Washington who has very indifferent health, joins me in the sincerest and best wishes for every blessing which can be bestowed on Mrs. Fairfax and yourself.
With great esteem, &c.
P. S. Since writing the above & foregoing I have seen Mr. Battaile Muse who looks after your Estate; & upon enquiry of him, am authorized to inform you that your negroes, and everything under his care are tolerably well, & your prospect of a crop midling, which is saying a good deal this year.
I have the pleasure also to inform you that your Brother and his family were very well a few days ago when I was there, attending the business of the Potomac Company at the Great Falls.
Your Sister and family are likewise well—I saw her three oldest daughters last week—the elder of them, Milly, is on the eve of Matrimony with a Mr. Ogden Throckmorton—a match not very agreeable, it is said, to her friends, & kept off by Mrs. Bushrod ’till her death which happened some three or four months ago—but now is yielded to by her Parents.
TO LUND WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 20 November, 1785.
I know as little of G: W.s plans or wishes as you do, never having exchanged a word with him upon the subject in my life.—By his Advertisement, and from what has frequently dropped from Fanny, he is desirous of getting a place in this country to live at.—
Before their marriage he and Fanny were both told that it would be very agreeable to Mrs. W. and myself, that they should make this House their home ’till the squalling and trouble of children might become disagreeable.—I have not repeated the matter since, because it was unnecessary—an offer once made is sufficient.—It is hardly to be expected that two people young as they are, with their nearest connexions at extreme points, would like confinement:—and without it, he could not answer my purposes as a Manager or Superintend., unless I had more leisure to attend to my own business; which by the by I shall aim at, let the consequences, in other respects, be as they may.
These however are no reasons for detaining you a moment longer in my employ than suits your interest, or is agreeable to your inclination, and family concerns But as the proposition is new, and hath never been resolved in my mind, it will take some time to digest my own thoughts upon the occasion before it is hinted to another.
In the mean while if I can do with the aids you offer, and for which I sincerely thank you, I will ask your constant attention no longer than this year—at any rate not longer than the next.—The inexplicitness of this answer cannot, I presume, put you to much if any inconvenience as yet; because retirement from, & not a change of business, is professedly your object.—
However unlucky I may have been in crops, &c. of late years, I shall always retain a grateful sense of your endeavors to serve me;—for as I have repeatedly intimated to you in my Letters from camp, nothing but that entire confidence which I reposed, could have made me easy under an absence of almost nine years from my family and Estate, or could have enabled me, consequently, to have given not only my time, but my whole attention to the public concerns of this Country for that space. I am, &c.1
TO JAMES MADISON.
Mount Vernon, 30 November, 1785.
Receive my thanks for your obliging communications of the 11th. I hear with much pleasure, that the Assembly are engaged seriously in the consideration of the revised laws. A short and simple code in my opinion, though I have the sentiments of some of the gentlemen of the long robe against me, would be productive of happy consequences, and redound to the honor of this or any country, which shall adopt a code so short, plain & simple. I hope the resolutions, which were published for the consideration of the House, respecting the reference of Congress for the regulation of a commercial system, will have passed.1
The proposition, in my opinion, is so self-evident, that I confess I am unable to discover wherein lies the weight of objection to the measure. We are either a united people, or we are not so. If the former, let us in all matters of general concern, act as a nation which has a national character to support; if we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it; for, whilst we are playing a double game, or playing a game between the two, we never shall be consistent or respectable, but may be the dupes of some powers, and the contempt assuredly of all. In any case, it behoves us to provide good militia laws, and to look well to the execution of them; but if we mean by our conduct, that the States shall act independently of each other, it becomes indispensably necessary, for therein will consist our strength and the respectability of the Union.2
It is much to be wished that public faith may be held inviolable. Painful is it, even in thought, that attempts should be made to weaken the bands of it. It is a dangerous experiment. Once slacken the reins, and the power is lost. And it is questionable with me, whether the advocates of the measure foresee all its consequences. It is an old adage, that honesty is the best policy. This applies to public as well as private life, to States as well as individuals.
I hope the Port and Assize Bills no longer sleep, but are awakened to a happy establishment. The first, with some alterations, would in my judgment be productive of great good to this country. Without it, the trade, thereof, I conceive, will ever labor and languish. With respect to the second, if it institutes a speedier administration of justice, it is equally desirable. * * *
From the complexion of the debates in the Pennsylvania Assembly, it should seem as if that legislature intended their assent to the proposition from the States of Virginia and Maryland, (respecting a road to the Youghiogany,) should be on the condition that permission be given by the latter to open a communication between the Chesapeake and Delaware, by the way of the rivers Elk and Christiana; which I am sure will never be obtained, if the Baltimore interest can give effectual opposition. The directors of the Potomac navigation have sent to the delegates of this county, to be laid before the Assembly, a petition (which sets forth the reasons) for relief in the depth of the canals, which it may be found necessary to open at the Great and Little Falls of the river. As public economy and private interest equally prompt the measure, and no possible disadvantage, that we can see, will attend granting the prayer of it, we flatter ourselves no opposition will be given to it. To save trouble, to expedite the business, and to obtain uniformity without delay, or an intercourse between the two Assemblies on so trifling a matter, we have taken the liberty of sending the draft of a bill to members of both Assemblies, which, if approved, will be found exactly similar. With the greatest esteem and regard, I am, Dear Sir, &c.
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 11 December, 1785.
I have been favored with your letter of the 25th of November by Major Farlie.
Sincerely do I wish that the several State Societies had, or would, adopt the alterations that were recommended by the General meeting in May, 1784.—I then thought, and have had no cause since to change my opinion, that if the Society of the Cincinnati mean to live in peace with the rest of their fellow citizens, they must subscribe to the alterations which were at that time adopted.
That the jealousies of, and prejudices against this Society were carried to an unwarrantable length, I will readily grant. And that less than was done, ought to have removed the fears which had been imbibed, I am as clear in, as I am that it would not have done it. But it is a matter of little moment whether the alarm which seized the public mind was the result of foresight—envy and jealousy—or a disordered imagination; the effect of perseverance would have been the same; wherein there would have been found an equivalent for the separation of the Interests, which (from my best information, not from one state only but from many) would inevitably have taken place?
The fears of the people are not yet removed, they only sleep, and a very little matter will set them afloat again. Had it not been for the predicament we stood in with respect to the foreign officers, and the charitable part of the Institution, I should on that occasion, as far as my voice would have gone, have endeavored to convince the narrow-minded part of our Countrymen that the Amor Patriæ was much stronger in our breasts than theirs—and that our conduct through the whole of the business was actuated by nobler and more generous sentiments than were apprehended, by abolishing the Society at once, with a declaration of the causes, and the purity of its intention. But the latter may be interesting to many, and the former, is an inseparable bar to such a step.1
I am sincerely concerned to find by your letter that the Baron is again in straightened circumstances—I am much disinclined to ask favors of Congress, but if I knew what the objects of his wishes are, I should have much pleasure in rendering him any services in my power with such members of that body as I now and then corrispond with.—I had flattered myself, from what was told me some time ago, that Congress had made a final settlement with the Baron much to his satisfaction. * * *
TO THE TRUSTEES OF THE ALEXANDRIA ACADEMY.
17 December, 1785.
That I may be perspicuous and avoid misconception, the proposition which I wish to lay before you is committed to writing, and is as follows:
It has long been my intention to invest, at my death, one thousand pounds current money of this State in the hands of trustees, the interest only of which to be applied in instituting a school in the town of Alexandria, for the purpose of educating orphan children, who have no other resource, or the children of such indigent parents, as are unable to give it; the objects to be considered of and determined by the trustees for the time being, when applied to by the parents or friends of the children, who have pretensions to this provision. It is not in my power at this time to advance the above sum; but that a measure, that may be productive of good, may not be delayed, I will until my death, or until it shall be more convenient for my estate to advance the principal, pay the interest thereof, to wit, fifty pounds annually.
Under this state of the matter, I submit to your consideration the practicability and propriety of blending the two institutions together, so as to make one seminary under the direction of the president, visitors, or such other establishment as to you shall seem best calculated to promote the objects in view, and for preserving order, regularity, and good conduct in the academy. My intention, as I have before intimated, is, that the principal sum shall never be broken in upon; the interest only to be applied for the purposes above-mentioned. It was also my intention to apply the latter to the sole purpose of education, and of that kind of education, which would be most extensively useful to people of the lower class of citizens, namely, reading, writing, and arithmetic, so as to fit them for mechanical purposes.
The fund, if confined to this, would comprehend more subjects; but, if you shall be of opinion, that the proposition I now offer can be made to comport with the institution of the school which is already established, and approve of an incorporation of them in the manner before mentioned, and thereafter, upon a full consideration of the matter, should conceive that this fund would be more advantageously applied towards clothing and schooling, than solely to the latter, I will acquiesce in it most cheerfully; and shall be ready, (as soon as the trustees are established upon a permanent footing,) by deed or other instrument of writing, to vest the aforesaid sum of one thousand pounds in them and their successors for ever, with powers to direct and manage the same agreeably to these my declared intentions.1
[1 ]After this letter had been read, the legislature passed an act withdrawing the donation, and adding: “That the said shares, with the tolls and profits hereafter accruing therefrom, shall stand appropriated to such objects of a public nature, in such manner and under such distributions, as the said George Washington, by deed during his life, or by his last will and testament, shall direct.”—Hening’s Statutes, vol. xii., p. 44. The letter is printed in the preamble to the statute. In writing to Mr. Madison on the subject, at the time he sent the above letter to the governor, Washington said: “Conceiving it would be better to suggest a wish, than to propose an absolute condition of acceptance, I have so expressed myself to the Assembly; and I shall be obliged to you, not only for information of the result, but (if there is an acquiescence on the part of the country) for your sentiments respecting the appropriations. From what may be said on the occasion, you will learn what will be most pleasing, and of the greatest utility to the public.”—October 29th.
[1 ]It was on December 20th that Washington informed Lund that his wish for retiring from the management of Mount Vernon could be gratified. George Augustine Washington came to Mt. Vernon and was placed in charge.
[1 ]“If the States individually were to attempt this, an abortion, or a many headed monster would be the issue.”—Washington to David Stuart, 30 November, 1785.
[2 ]“The discussion of them [the commercial propositions] has consumed much time, and though the absolute necessity of some such general system prevailed over all the efforts of its adversaries in the first instance, the stratagem of limiting its duration to a short term has ultimately disappointed our hopes. I think it better to trust to further experience, and even distress, for an adequate remedy, than to try a temporary measure, which may stand in the way of a permanent one, and confirm that transatlantic policy which is founded on our supposed mistrust of Congress and of one another.”—Madison to Washington, 9 December, 1785.
[1 ]“I have received the pamphlet, which you were so obliging as to send me, entitled ‘Considerations on the Order of Cincinnatus, by the Count de Mirabeau.’ I thank you, my good Sir, for this instance of your attention, but wish you had taken time to have perused it first, as I have not yet had leisure to give it a reading. I thought, as most others seemed to think, that all the exceptionable parts of that institution had been done away at the last general meeting; but, with those who are disposed to cavil, or who have the itch of writing strongly upon them, nothing can be made to suit their palates. The best way, therefore, to disconcert and defeat them, is to take no notice of their publications. All else is but food for declamation.
[1 ]The above proposal was accepted by the trustees of the Alexandria Academy, who engaged on their part to do all in their power to comply with the benevolent intention of the donor. It was in their opinion best to appropriate the fund to the institution as then established, and wholly for schooling.