Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790)
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TO THOMAS JEFFERSON. - 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 THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Philadelphia, 30 May, 1787.
* * * * * *
I come now to the other part of your letter, which concerns the Cincinnati, on which indeed I scarcely know what to say. It is a delicate, it is a perplexing subject. Not having the extract from the Encyclopedia before me, I cannot now undertake to enter into the merits of the publication.1 It may therefore be as much as will be expected from me to observe, that the author appears in general to have detailed very candidly and ingenuously the motives and inducements, which give birth to the Society. Some of the subsequent facts, which I cannot, however, from memory pretend to discuss with precision, are thought by gentlemen, who have seen the publication, to be misstated; insomuch that it is commonly said, truth and falsehood are so intimately blended, that it will become very difficult to sever them.
For myself, I only recollect two or three circumstances, in the narration of which palpable mistakes seem to have insinuated themselves. Monsieur L’Enfant did not arrive and bring the eagles during the session of the general meeting, but some time before that convention. The legislature of Rhode Island never passed any act whatever on the subject, (that ever came to my knowledge,) notwithstanding what Mirabeau and others had previously advanced. Nothing can be more ridiculous than the supposition of the author, that the Society was instituted partly because the country could not then pay the army, except the assertion that the United States have now made full and complete provision for paying, not only the arrearages due to the officers, but the half-pay or commutation at their option; from whence the author deduces an argument for its dissolution. I conceive this never had any thing to do with the institution, yet the officers in most of the States, who never have nor I believe expect to receive one farthing of the principal or interest on their final settlement securities, would be much obliged to the author to convince them how and when they received a compensation for their services. No foreigner, or American, who has been absent some time, will easily comprehend how tender those concerned are on this point. I am sorry to say, a great many of the officers consider me as having in a degree committed myself by inducing them to trust too much in the justice of their country. They heartily wish no settlement had been made, because it has rendered them obnoxious to their fellow citizens, without affording them the least emolument.
For the reason I first mentioned, I cannot think it expedient for me to go into an investigation of the writer’s deductions. I shall accordingly content myself with giving you some idea of the part I have acted, posterior to the first formation of the association.
When I found that you and many of the most respectable characters in the country would entirely acquiesce with the institution, as altered and amended in the first general meeting of 1784, and that the objections against the hereditary and other obnoxious parts were wholly done away, I was prevailed upon to accept the presidency. Happy in finding, (so far as I could learn by assiduous inquiry,) that all the clamors and jealousies, which had been excited against the original association, had ceased, I judged it a proper time in the last autumn to withdraw myself from any farther agency in the business, and to make my retirement complete, agreeably to my original plan. I wrote circular letters to all the State Societies announcing my wishes, informing that I did not propose to be at the general meeting, and requested not to be reëlected president. This was the last step of a public nature I expected ever to have taken. But, having since been appointed by my native State to attend the national convention, and having been pressed to a compliance in a manner, which it hardly becomes me to describe, I have, in a measure, been obliged to sacrifice my own sentiments, and to be present in Philadelphia at the very time of the general meeting of the Cincinnati. After which I was not at liberty to decline the presidency, without placing myself in an extremely disagreeable situation with relation to that brave and faithful class of men, whose persevering patriotism and friendship I had experienced on so many trying occasions.
The business of this convention is as yet too much in embryo to form any opinion of the conclusion. Much is expected from it by some; not much by others; and nothing by a few. That something is necessary, none will deny; for the situation of the general government, if it can be called a government, is shaken to its foundation, and liable to be overturned by every blast. In a word, it is at an end; and, unless a remedy is soon applied, anarchy and confusion will inevitably ensue. But having greatly exceeded the bounds of a letter, I will only add assurances of that esteem, regard, and respect, with which I have the honor to be, &c.
[1 ]Mr. Jefferson had sent an extract from an article in the Encyclopédie, being an account of the Society of the Cincinnati, and Washington sent it to Knox, saying: “In my present state of mind I can hardly form an opinion whether it will be best to lay the matter before the society as coming from Mr. Jefferson, or as from a person of as good information as any in France. I must therefore leave it wholly to you to do as you may think most proper.”—27 April, 1787.