Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1798. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIV (1798-1799)
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1798. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIV (1798-1799) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XIV (1798-1799).
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TO JAMES ANDERSON.
Federal City, 22 May, 1798.
Your letter of the 19th inst. has been received, but not with the surprise it would otherwise have occasioned had I not been prepared in some measure for the notice it gave, by the intimation contained in a former letter (not now by me, and the date forgotten) of your intention to withdraw from my employment at the end of the year.
I shall repeat now, what I said upon that occasion—viz—that I had no intention then, nor have I any desire now, to part with you as a manager; but having made this declaration I shall add, (what I believe I then did) that I have no wish to retain any person in my service who is discontented with my conduct; or who has any prospect more congenial with their inclinations or their interest in the service of another—and this I must presume to be the case with you, for it can hardly be supposed that the reasons you have assigned for leaving mine, are all that have urged you to the measure. Strange and singular indeed would it be, if the proprietor of an estate (than whom no one can be so good a judge of the resources as himself) should have nothing to say in, or controul over, his own expenditures; should not be at liberty to square his œconomy thereto; nor should, without hurting the feelings of a manager, point to such alterations (admitting they were not the best, but such as he might incline to adopt, or at least propose;) especially too when it has been requested by that manager over and over again to do so. It is a matter of regret, and if these things should operate equally on others, it might be a means of preventing my ever having another manager—for I have no hesitation in declaring that I shall never relinquish the right of judging, in my own concerns (though I may be pleased always to hear opinions) to any man living, while I have health and strength to look into my own business—especially as my sole inducement to give standing wages was to prevent those complaints which might arise from a difference of opinion and interference, if a share of the crops was to constitute the reward for service.
Having said this much upon general principles, I am a little curious, I must confess, to know in what instances your plans have been thwarted—that they have been altered by yourself, cannot be denied. I am equally desirous of knowing what improvements have been obstructed or defeated by my withholding the means of carrying them into effect? It will not be denied that you have planned your own crops (except perhaps those at Dogue Run), and that you have directed the carpenters, ditchers, millers and coopers in their work. If I have interfered in either, it has been no further, that I can recollect, than by expressing an opinion that shifting them from one work to another, before anything was completed, is a waste of time, and a backwarding of labor. Have you ever been denied money when it was asked for? and have I not on a variety of occasions given it as my decided opinion that to improve my farms by lessening the quantity of tillage, by dressing the smaller quantity more highly; by hedging, and keeping them clean; by ditching and meadowing, would be more agreeable to me than immediate profit; and that for want of a regular rotation system (adapted to the nature of the soil, and to circumstances) my land hitherto has been sorely pressed, and must ultimately be ruined, if it is not adopted.
If all these things have happened, where have I been deficient? or in what have you just cause to complain? If I cannot remark upon my own business passing every day under my own eyes, without hurting your feelings, I must discontinue my rides, or become a cypher on my own estate. And you will, I am persuaded, do me the justice to say, that I have never undertaken any new thing, or made any material change, or indeed any change at all in the old, without consulting with you thereupon; and you must further acknowledge, that I have never been tenacious of any matters I have suggested, when you have offered reasons against the adoption of them. If your feelings have been hurt by my remarks on the bad clover seed that was purchased, I cannot help that; my views and plan have been much more hurt by it; for it is a fact known to yourself, that field No. 2. at D. R. would not have been sown with oats but for the sake of the clover (with a view to carrying on my rotation system at that farm) and that I required only three or four days to have ascertained by actual experiment whether it was good or not. In a case where facts could be resorted to, there was no occasion to exercise judgment.
But as it is not my wish to hurt the feelings of any one, where it can be avoided—or to do injustice in any respect whatsoever, the foregoing is to be considered in no other light than as a reply to your letter, and as a development of the principles on which I have acted and shall continue to act. I shall proceed then to suggest now what I intended to mention to you some little time hence, and which was the ground on which I proposed the plan of building a house at the mill.
Two things have appeared very clear to me for some time past; one, that your attention is too much divided, and called to so many different objects, that notwithstanding your zeal and industry, with which I always have been, and still am perfectly satisfied, some of them must suffer:—the other, that my mill and distillery, under the uncertainty of cropping of late years, would with good management and close attention to them, be found my best and most certain support.
Under this conviction, under a belief that to carry on the millering and distillery business to the extent of which they are susceptible, would, of themselves, be sufficient to occupy the time and attention of any one person; and under a persuation that if you were relieved wholly, or in part from all the other duties and perplexities of your present employments (still retaining the salary and emoluments you now have) that you would render these two branches more productive than the whole now is to me. These considerations then, had determined me to propose to you to confine your attention to these objects and to the Fishery; if not altogether, at least in a great degree; to enable you to do which with the greatest convenience was one of my motives for proposing to build a convenient house at the mill. In this case you would be relieved from the responsibility of other matters, and in a great measure from the trouble which is now attached to them, altho’ I should still expect and stipulate to receive all the aid that could be derived from your knowledge and advice in the management of my farms, especially at the three nearest to the mill, and that you would ride round them with me whenever required so to do, and do business for me in Alexandria when called upon for that purpose. I am induced, in some degree, to make this proposition from another consideration; namely a belief that one of the overseers which I now have, altho’ he may obey orders, will never carry on business to advantage if controuled by any one except the owner of the farm, if by him.
If you are inclined to accede to this proposition, I will give the three concerns above mentioned up entirely to your management the ensuing year, under regulations to be agreed upon, and will furnish you with means to carry on the business to its utmost extent, and shall, as mentioned before, only require your advice and assistance occasionally in conducting the other parts of my concerns. By a plan of this sort you will be relieved from the most troublesome part of your present occupations—from all the responsibility annexed to them; and from those remarks which seem to be the source of your present uneasiness and complaints.
So soon as you shall have given this proposition due consideration, I shall expect to be informed of the result, as decision and timely measures must be taken on my part to arrange matters for the new order, if you are determined to quit the employ.
I wish you well, and am your friend, &c.
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 27 May, 1798.
My dear Sir,
Yesterday brought me your letter of the 19th instant. You may be assured, that my mind is deeply impressed with the present situation of our public affairs, and not a little agitated by the outrageous conduct of France towards the United States, and at the inimitable conduct of its partisans, who aid and abet their measures. You may believe further, from assurances equally sincere, that if there was anything in my power, which could be done with consistency, to avert or lessen the danger of the crisis, it should be rendered with hand and heart.
The expedient however which has been suggested by you, would not in my opinion answer the end, which is proposed—the object of such a tour could not be vailed by the extensive cover to be given to it; because it would not apply to the state of my health which never was better and as the measure would be susceptible of two interpretations the enemies to it, always more active and industrious than friends wou’d endeavor, as much as in them lay, to turn it to their own advantage by malicious insinuations; unless they should discover that the current against themselves was setting too strong, and of too serious a nature for them to stem, in which case the journey would be unnecessary, and in either case the reception might not be such as you have supposed.
But, my dear Sir, dark as matters appear at present, and expedient as it is to be prepared at all points for the worst that can happen, (and no one is more disposed to this measure than I am,) I cannot make up my mind yet for the expectation of open war, or, in other words, for a formidable invasion by France. I cannot believe, although I think them capable [of] any thing bad, that they will attempt to do more than they have done; or that, when they perceive the spirit and policy of this country rising into resistance, and that they have falsely calculated upon support from a large part of the people thereof to promote their views and influence in it, that they will desist even from those practices, unless unexpected events in Europe, and their possession of Louisiana and the Floridas, should induce them to continue the measure. And I believe further, that, although the leaders of their party in this country will not change their sentiments, that they will be obliged nevertheless to change their plan, or the mode of carrying it on, from the effervescence which is appearing in all quarters, and from the desertion of their followers, which must frown them into silence, at least for a while.
If I did not view things in this light, my mind would be infinitely more disquieted than it is; for, if a crisis should arrive, when a sense of duty or a call from my country should become so imperious, as to leave me no choice, I should prepare for the relinquishment, and go with as much reluctance from my present peaceful abode, as I should do to the tomb of my ancestors.
To say at this time, determinately, what I should do under such circumstances, might be improper, having once before departed from a similar resolution; but I may declare to you, that, as there [is] no conviction in my breast, that I could serve my country with more efficiency in the command of the armies it might levy than many others, an expression of its wish that I should do so must somehow or another be unequivocally known, to satisfy my mind, that, notwithstanding the respect in which I may be held on account of former services, that a preference might not be given to a man more in his prime; and it might well be supposed, too, that I should like previously to know who would be my coadjutors, and whether you would be disposed to take an active part, if arms are to be resorted to.1
Before this letter can get to your hands, you will have seen the resolutions and proposed address from citizens of Charleston in South Carolina. Their proceedings will, I am persuaded, give the tone to other parts of that State. Two or three very good addresses have already appeared from North Carolina, one with the signature of a late Governor thereof (Spaight.) All the most popular and hardy yeomanry of this State have come and are coming forward, with strong addresses to the executive and assurances of support. The address from Norfolk (I do not mean the impertinent one from Magnien’s Grenadier Company) is a good one. The middle counties of this State, with two or three exceptions, have hitherto been silent. They want leaders; but I shall be much mistaken, if a large majority of them do not forsake, if they have heretofore been with those, who have pretended to speak their sentiments. As to the resolutions, which were entered into at Fredericksburg, it is only necessary to point to the manager of them, and add that the meeting was partial.2
From Georgia no development of the public sentiment has yet appeared; but I learn from an intelligent gentleman just returned from where he has been some time for the benefit of his health, travelling, going and returning slowly, and making considerable halts, that the people of that State, as also those of South and North Carolina, seem to be actuated by one spirit, and that a very friendly one to the general government. I have likewise heard, that the present governor of the first (Georgia) professes to be strongly attached to it. These disclosures, with what may yet be expected, will, I conceive, give a different impression of the sentiments of our people to the Directory of France, than what they have been taught to believe, while it must serve to abash the partisans of it for their wicked and presumptive information.
Your free communications, on these political topics, is so far from needing an apology, that I shall be much gratified and thankful to you for the continuation of them; and I would wish you to believe, that, with great truth and sincerity, I am always your affectionate friend, &c.
TO JEREMY BELKNAP.
Mount Vernon, 15 June, 1798.
Your favor of the 29th ultimo, accompanying the Discourse delivered on the day recommended by the President of the United States to be observed for a fast, was received in the usual course of the mail from Boston, and the copies therewith sent were forwarded agreeably to your desire. My best wishes attend the prosecution of your American Biography; and, (not recollecting whether the request was made before,) I desire I may be considered as a subscriber to the first volume. To the proposal, which came under cover to me, I have fixed my name, and will lodge the paper in the hands of a gentleman in Alexandria for the convenience of those, who may incline to become subscribers thereto, and thereafter to return it to you.
My information, relative to the family of Calvert, is more limited than the one detailed by you. I know little more of it, than what is recited in the history of Virginia; but I will send a transcript of so much of your letter, as relates to this subject, to a well-informed gentleman of my acquaintance in Maryland, Judge Chase, and give you the result.1
I know of no other histories of Virginia, than those mentioned in your letter; but I recollect well to have heard the late Richard Bland, of Prince George County, say before the revolution, that he was either possessed of or was collecting materials, and hoped to furnish a more correct history of it, than any that was then extant. He was very competent to the undertaking, being a man of erudition and intelligence, long a member of the councils of this State, and afterwards a member of the first Congresses that were held in Philadelphia. I cannot add, however, that he was the author of the manuscript transmitted to you by Carter B. Harrison. Colonel Bland, the person of whom I am speaking, has been dead more than twenty years.1 Bishop Madison, with whom you seem to be in the habit of corresponding, is as likely to give information on the point sought after by you as any one person I am acquainted with. To the descendant of a gentleman, (the Honorable Richard Corbin, many years deceased,) who it is said possessed some valuable notes relative to ancient transactions, and the actors of those times in this State, I will write; and if any thing worthy of notice is obtained, you shall be furnished therewith.
If I can render you any service in procuring materials for your valuable Biography, I shall feel pleasure in doing it. I hope both life and health will be dispensed to you by Him, in whose hands all things are, until this and many others of your good works are completed. For the Discourse, which you were so obliging as to send me, and for the favorable sentiments with which it was accompanied, I pray you to accept the best thanks of, Sir, &c.
TO JOHN ADAMS, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
Mount Vernon, 17 June, 1798.
I have heard with much pleasure, that you contemplate a visit to the city designated for the permanent seat of government of the United States, in the course of the summer or early in autumn.
It is unnecessary, I hope, for me in that event to express the satisfaction it would give Mrs. Washington and me to see Mrs. Adams, yourself, and company in the shade of our vine and fig-tree; but I shall request, that, while you remain in these parts, you will make Mount Vernon your head-quarters. It is but about seventeen miles by land, and less by water, from the Federal City; and only half that distance from Alexandria, which is on the direct route between them.
I pray you to believe, that no one has read the various approbatory addresses, which have been presented to you, with more heartfelt satisfaction than I have done; nor are there any, who more sincerely wish that your administration of the government may be easy, happy, and honorable to yourself, and prosperous for the country.
Present, if you please, the best respects of Mrs. Washington, Miss Custis, and myself to Mrs. Adams and Miss Smith. Accept them yourself, and be assured of the high esteem and regard, with which I have the honor to be, dear Sir, &c.
TO JAMES LLOYD.
Mount Vernon, 25 June, 1798.
Your favor of the 25th. ulto. has been duly received, and I feel much obliged by your polite attentions to me.
I rejoice to hear of General Marshall’s arrival, and wish sincerely he had been accompanied by his colleagues, for I believe no country will afford them better protection than their own. The stay of one of them has a mysterious appearance, after having jointly declared “that no one of them is authorized to take upon himself a negotiation evidently entrusted by the letter of the powers and instructions to the whole,” and that too after the invidious distinction was made by the minister of foreign relations, which ought in my opinion to have filled him with resentment instead of complaisance.
I wonder the French Government has not more pride than to expose to the world such flimsy performances as the ministers of it exhibit by way of complaint and argument. But it is still more to be wondered at, that these charges, which have been refuted over and over again, should find men * * *1
TO JAMES LLOYD.
Mount Vernon, 27 June, 1798.
Accept my thanks for your favor of the 21st Inst and its inclosure. When the whole correspondence between our envoys and the French Minister of Foreign Relations and his agents is brought into one view, and laid before the public, it will be extremely interesting; and must, I conceive, carry conviction to every mind that is open to it, of what the French now are, and have been aiming at from the beginning of their Revolution—or from an early period of it at least; and will at the same time show them in what manner they have been imposed upon by those whose objects were not to be promoted by truth or a clear understanding of matters.
Gen’l Marshall is so capable of making accurate observations, that I am persuade his information may be relied on with certainty. With great esteem, &c.
TO JOHN ADAMS, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
Mount Vernon, 4 July, 1798.
Not being in the habit, since my return to private life, of sending regularly to the post-office, (nine miles from hence,) every post-day, it often happens that letters addressed to me lye longer there on that account, than they otherwise would do.
I have delayed no time unnecessarily since I had the honor of receiving your very obliging favor of the 22d ultimo, to thank you for the polite and flattering sentiments you have been pleased to express relatively to me, and to assure you, that, as far as it is in my power to support your administration, and to render it easy, happy, and honorable, you may command me without reserve.1
At the epoch of my retirement, an Invasion of these States by any European Power, or even the probability of such an event happening in my days, was so far from being contemplated by me, that I had no conception that that or any other occurrence would arise in so short a period, which could turn my eyes from the shades of Mount Vernon. But this seems to be the age of wonders; and reserved for intoxicated and lawless France (for purposes of Providence far beyond the reach of human ken) to slaughter its own citizens, and to disturb the repose of all the world besides.
From a view of the past, from the prospect present—and of that which seems to be expected, it is not easy for me to decide satisfactorily on the part it might best become me to act. In case of actual Invasion by a formidable force, I certainly should not Intrench myself under the cover of age and retirement, if my services should be required by my Country to assist in repelling it. And if there be good cause, which must be better known to the Government than to private citizens, to expect such an event, delay in preparing for it might be dangerous, improper, and not to be justified by prudence. The uncertainty, however, of the latter, in my mind, creates my embarrassment; for I cannot fairly bring it to believe, disregardful as the French are of treaties and of the laws of nations, and capable as I conceive them to be of any species of Despotism and Injustice, that they will attempt to invade this country, after such a uniform and unequivocal expression of the sense of the People in all parts to oppose them with their lives and fortunes.
That they have been led to believe, by their agents and Partisans amongst us, that we are a divided people, that the latter are opposed to their own Government, and that a show of a small force would occasion a revolt, I have no doubt; and how far these men, (grown desperate,) will further attempt to deceive, and may succeed in keeping up the deception, is problematical. Without this, the folly of the Directory in such an attempt would, I conceive, be more conspicuous, if possible, than their wickedness.
Having with candor made this disclosure of the state of my mind, it remains only that I should add, that to those who know me best it is best known, that, if imperious circumstances should induce me to renounce the smooth paths of Retirement for the thorny ways of Public life, at a period too when repose is most congenial to nature, and a calm indispensable to contemplation, that it would be productive of sensations, which can be more easily conceived than expressed.
The difficulty in which you expect to be involved, in the choice of general officers, when you come to form the army, is certainly a serious one; and, in a Government like ours, where there are so many considerations to be attended to and to combine, it will be found not a little perplexing. But, as the mode of carrying on the War against the Foe that threatens must differ widely from that practised in the contest for Independence, it will not be an easy matter, I conceive, to find, among the old set of Generals, men of sufficient activity, energy, and health, and of sound politics, to train troops to the “quick step,” long marches, and severe conflicts they may have to encounter; and, therefore, that recourse must be had, (for the greater part at least,) to the well-known, most experienced, best proved and intelligent officers of the late army without respect to Grade.
I speak with diffidence, however, on this head, having no list by me from which my memory could be refreshed. There is one thing though, on which I can give a decided opinion; and, as it is of the utmost importance to the Public, to the army, and to the officer commanding it, be him whom he will, I will take the liberty of suggesting it now. It is, that the greatest circumspection be used in appointing the General staff. If this corps is not composed of respectable characters, knowledge of the duties of their respective Departments, able, active, and firm, and of incorruptible integrity and prudence, and withal such as the Commander-in-Chief can place entire confidence in, his plans and movements, if not defeated altogether, may be so embarrassed and retarded, as to amount nearly to the same thing; and this almost with impunity on their part. * * *
The opening given me in your letter is such, as hath prompted me to express these sentiments with freedom; and persuading myself, that you will ascribe them to pure motives, although they may differ from your own ideas, I have no doubt of their being well received. With the greatest respect and consideration I have the honor to be, dear Sir, &c.1
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 4 July, 1798.
The sentiments, which I mean to express to you in this letter on the subject of yours, shall be frank, undisguised, and explicit; for I see, as you do, that clouds are gathering, and that a storm may ensue; and I find, too, from a variety of hints, that my quiet under these circumstances does not promise to be of long continuance.
It cannot be necessary for me to promise to you, or to others, who know my sentiments as well, that, to quit the tranquil walks of retirement, and enter the boundless field of responsibility and trouble, would be productive of sensations, which a better pen than I possess would find it difficult to describe. Nevertheless, the principle by which my conduct has been actuated through life would not suffer me, in any great emergency, to withhold any services I could render, required by my country; especially in a case, where its dearest rights are assailed by lawless ambition and intoxicated power, contrary to every principle of justice, and in violation of solemn compact and Laws, which govern all civilized nations; and this, too, with the obvious intent to sow thick the seeds of disunion, for the purpose of subjugating the Government, and destroying our Independence and happiness.
Under circumstances like these, accompanied by an actual Invasion of our territorial rights, it would be difficult at any time for me to remain an idle spectator under the plea of age or Retirement. With sorrow, it is true, I should quit the shades of my peaceful abode, and the ease and happiness I now enjoy, to encounter anew the turmoils of War, to which, possibly, my strength and powers might be found incompetent. These, however, should not be stumblingblocks in my own way; but there are other things highly important for me to ascertain and settle, before I could give a decided answer to your question.
First, the propriety in the opinion of the public, (so far as that opinion has been expressed in conversation,) of my appearing again on a Public theatre, after declaring the sentiments I did in my Valedictory Address, of September, 1796.
Second, a conviction in my own breast, from the best information that can be obtained, that it is the wish of my country, that the military force of it should be committed to my charge; and,
Third, that the army now to be formed should be so appointed, as to afford a well-grounded hope of its doing honor to the country, and credit to him who commands it in the field.
On each of these heads you must allow me to make observations.
With respect to the first, it will readily be admitted, under the circumstances I at present am, that nothing short of an imperious call would or ought to draw me from Retirement; and, unless this was apparent, the advantages, (if any are expected from the measure,) would not only be weakened, but might be defeated altogether. For the opposers of government, with a view to lessen its influence, would denounce it at once a restless act, evincive of my discontent in retirement, and that my love for it was all a sham. Knowing the purity of my own intentions, such observations would make no impression on my personal feelings, but the necessity thereof in the eyes of the Public ought to be unequivocal; for it would be uncandid in me not to confess, that, although I highly approve of all the defensive and precautionary measures that have been adopted, and wish they had been more energetic, yet that I cannot believe, since the People of this country, (on whose defection the calculation was made,) have come forward with such strong and unequivocal assurances to defend at all hazards their Government and Independence, maugre the attempts to divert them from it, that the Directory of France, intoxicated and abandoned as it is, will have the folly to invade our territorial rights, otherwise than by predatory attempts on the sea-board; unless their agents and Partisans among us, in defiance of the evidence of their senses, should still have the wickedness and address to make that Government believe, that nothing but a force to give countenance to its friends is wanting to effectuate all they wish. This, Sir, is my opinion, with respect to a formidable Invasion. Perhaps, with the information and lights in possession of the Executive, I might think differently.
On the second head I shall be more concise, because, as my whole life has been dedicated to the Service of my country in one shape or another, for the poor remains of it, it is not an object to contend for ease and quiet, when all that is valuable in it is at stake, further than to be satisfied that the sacrifice I should make of these is acceptable and desired by my Country. As neither ambition, Interest, nor personal gratification of any sort could induce me to quit the walks of private life, to be disappointed in the only object I should have in view would be mortifying beyond my powers of utterance. And what this public opinion and wish is, on this occasion, I know not; for I have studiously avoided touching on the subject, lest some inference contrary to my meaning should be drawn from it.
I express these ideas not from affectation, for I despise everything that carries the appearance of it, but from the belief, that, as it is the fashion of the present day, set or adopted by the French with whom we are to contend and with great and astonishing success too, to appoint Generals of Juvenile years to lead their armies, it might not be improbable, that similar ideas and wishes might pervade the minds of our citizens. And when to this a fear might be added, that age may have wrought too powerfully on my body and mind, to make it advisable to commit so important a trust to my direction.
On the third head you must permit me to dwell a little more at large. If an army was in existence, and an officer were invited to take command of it, his course would be plain, for he would have nothing more to do than to examine the constitution of it, and to inquire into the composition, to enable him to decide; but we have one to form, and much indeed depends upon the formation. If a judicious choice is not made of the principal officers, and above all, of the General Staff, in the first instance, it never can be rectified thereafter. The character, then, of the army would be lost in the Superstructure. The reputation of the Commander-in-Chief would sink with it, and the country be involved in inextricable expense.
It is impossible, I know, for the Executive to be intimately acquainted with the qualifications of the Battalion officers; and perhaps, from the manner in which the Volunteer Corps may offer themselves, little will be left to his choice. The presumption however is, that, as these corps will be composed of respectable citizens, the officers will be good, and worthy of as much confidence as can be placed in untried men. The great desiderata lyes in the appointment of the General Officers of the line, and of the Staff, particularly the latter; and the first consists in a great measure in determining whether they shall be taken from the old set of Generals, or formed anew from the most experienced, intelligent, and best proved officers of the late American army, without regard to Grade.
From the want of the list, which I left in the Presidential office, by which my memory could be refreshed as to names, it would be hazardous, and might be improper, to give a decided opinion on this head; but I have no great scruple in saying, that I incline strongly to the latter mode; for, if this country is seriously Invaded, our system of warfare must be the very reverse of the last.
To remark to a military man, how all-important the General Staff of an army is to its well-being, and how essential consequently to the Commander-in-Chief, seems to be unnecessary; and yet a good choice is of such immense consequence, that I must be allowed to explain myself.
The Inspector-General, Quartermaster-General, Adjutant-General, and officer commanding the corps of Artillerists and Engineers, ought to be men of the most respectable character, and of first-rate abilities; because, from the nature of their respective offices, and from their being always about the Commander-in-Chief, who is obliged to entrust many things to them confidentially, scarcely any movement can take place without their knowledge. It follows, then, that, besides possessing the qualifications just mentioned, they ought to have those of Integrity and prudence in an eminent degree, that entire confidence might be reposed in them. Without these, and their being on good terms with the Commanding General, his measures, if not designedly thwarted, may be so embarrassed as to make them move heavily on.
If the Inspector-General is not an officer of great respectability of character, firm and strict in discharging the duties of the trust reposed in him, or if he is too pliant in his disposition, he will most assuredly be imposed upon, and the efficient strength and condition of the army will not be known to the Commander-in-Chief. Of course he may form his Plans upon erroneous calculations, and commit fatal mistakes.
If the Quartermaster-General is not a man of great resource and activity, and worthy of the highest confidence, he would be unfit for the military Station he is to occupy; for, as it is not possible at all times to mask real designs and movements under false appearances, the better and safer way is, to place full confidence in him under the seal of responsibility. Then, knowing the plan, he participates in the concealment; on which, and the celerity of a movement, success oftentimes entirely depends. In addition to these requisites in a Quartermaster-General, œconomy in providing for the wants of an army, proper arrangements in the distribution of the supplies, and a careful eye to the use of them, is of great importance, and call for a circumspect choice.
The Adjutant-Gen. ought also to be a man of established character, of great activity and experience in the details of an army, and of proved integrity, or no alertness can be expected in the execution of the several duties consigned to him on the one hand, and every thing to be feared from treachery or neglect in his office on the other, by which the enemy might be as well informed of our strength as their own.
Though last mentioned, it is not least important, that so essential and scientific a part of the army, as the Corps of Artillerists and Engineers, should have an able and respectable officer at their head, without which it would soon sink into ignorance and disrepute.
Humanity and feeling for the sick and wounded of an army call loudly for skill, attention, and œconomy in the director of the hospitals; and, without the last qualification, profusion and misapplication of its Stores will inevitably take place.
Able, well-informed, active, and spirited General Officers are no doubt of high importance to the honor, reputation, and success of any army; but I have confined my observations in a more particular manner to those of the General Staff, who may be considered as so many parts of the Commander-in-Chief. Viewing them, then, in this light, it will readily be seen how essential it is, that they should be agreeable to him. Such characters are within my view, if they would accept.
I have run into great prolixity, in order to give you a comprehensive view of my ideas on the subject of your letter, and the principles by which I am governed. Without these explanations, the answer might have been conveyed in a few words as follows.
When I retired to the walks of private life, I had no idea, that any event would occur which could induce me to leave them. That the pain I should feel, if it be my fate to do so, cannot easily be expressed; Yet if this Country should be actually Invaded, or such manifestation of a design to do it as cannot be mistaken, I should be ready to render every Service in my power to repel it;—
Provided my declining years are not considered as an objection to the trust, but, on the contrary, (and in support of the partiality which may actuate the President in my favor,) it shall appear unequivocally to you, and to those with whom you act, being at the centre of information from all parts of the Union, and where a Commander for the Troops to be raised must often have been the subject of conversation, that the Public wish was directed to me, notwithstanding my avowed declaration when I retired from office to remain a private Citizen;—
And provided also, That I can have such characters associated with me, as will render the turmoils of War, and the burthen of the Command, as light as the nature of it will admit. For it is well known, that the vicissitudes of war are not within the reach of human controul; and the chances of adding to, are not greater than the hazard of taking from, that reputation which the partiality of the world has been pleased to confer for past services; And that not prompted, as I have observed in a former part of this letter, by motives of ambition or Interest to embark again on a theatre so arduous and responsible, I might in the course of events be left with the single consolation of knowing myself, though possibly deprived even of the credit of that by the malevolence of others; that a sense of duty was the only motive, which had induced me to run the risk, and to make the sacrifice of my ease and quiet at the same time.
In a very handsome, polite, and flattering letter with which I have lately been honored by the President, he has hinted in very delicate terms, not to be misunderstood, a wish that the Command of the Military force of this Country might be in me. I did not conceive myself at liberty, however, to go into such details and explanations with him, as, from the habits of intimacy I have always been in with you, I thought myself authorized to talk with you, who may be assured of the sincere esteem and affectionate regards of, dear Sir, &c.
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 5 July, 1798.
My dear Sir,
I am perfectly satisfied, that the duties of your office were not diminished by the business thrown upon it in the course of the present session of Congress, and far was it from my wish to add to the trouble of them. I expected no more than a simple acknowledgment of my letters, and, with respect to the proposed Arsenal at the confluence of the Potomac and Shanondoah, that you would have said it had or had not been forgotten, according to the fact.
I am well satisfied with your reply to my last; better perhaps than you will be with the trouble of reading the lengthy scrawl herewith enclosed, to which it has given rise, and which if you please, as from yourself, may be shewn to the President; to whom I have expressed tantamount sentiments in more concise terms. If you are at liberty, and deem it expedient, communicate the responses, which shall be made to it to me.
The President’s letter to me, though not so expressed in terms, is nevertheless strongly indicative of a wish, that I should take charge of the military force of this Country; and, if I take his meaning right, to aid also in the selection of the General Officers. The appointment of these is important, but of those of the General Staff all-important; insomuch that, if I am looked to as the Commander-in-Chief, I must be allowed to chuse such as will be agreeable to me. To say more at present would be unnecessary; first, because an army may not be wanted; and, 2dly, because I might not be indulged in this choice if it was.
You will readily perceive, that a main difficulty with me in this business proceeds from the different epochs at which the army may be formed, and at which it would be proper for me to take the Command of it, (in case the preliminaries mentioned in my other letter are solved to my satisfaction. The President, knowing that 10,000 men cannot be raised by the blowing of a Trump, might deem it expedient, from such appearances or information as would justify him under the Act, to prepare for the worst. I, on the other hand, have no disposition, and think it would be bad policy, to come forward before the emergency becomes evident; farther than that it might be known, that I will step forward when it does appear so unequivocally; and if the matters, for which I have stipulated as previously necessary, are ascertained and accommodated, I shall have no objection to the annunciation (if good would result from it) of this determination. But what is to be done in the interval? I see but two ways to overcome the difficulty, if it is an object to accommodate my wishes; first, to delay the appointment of the General Staff to the latter Epoch, if no inconvenience would result from it; or, if this cannot be, then to advise with me on the appointment of them. I mention this matter now, and in this manner, because I have some reason to believe, that there are very fit men that would be coadjutors with me, whose services could not otherwise be commanded.
Although I have made my stand at the General Staff, I conceive that much will depend upon active and spirited officers for the Divisions & Brigades of the army. And (under the rose) I shall candidly declare, that I do not, from my present recollection of them, conceive that a desirable set could be formed from the old Generals, some on account of their age or infirmities, some from never having never displayed any talents for Enterprise, and others from their general opposition to the Government, or predilection to French measures, be their present conduct what it may, for those who will come up with a flowing tide, will descend with the Ebb, and there can be no dependence upon them in moments of difficulty. If circumstances would allow a choice of Field-Officers, the service would be much benefited by it.
With my two letters I must have tired you sufficiently, and therefore I shall only add, what you knew before, and that is that I am your Affectionate, &c.
P. S. I have already been applied to by one Gentleman to recommend him for Director of the Hospital, which I have refused, as well on general ground, as because, if I should ever have occasion for a Physician or Surgeon, I should prefer my old Surgeon, Dr. Craik, who, from 40 years’ experience, is better qualified than a dozen of them together.
TO SIR JOHN SINCLAIR.
Mount Vernon, 10 July, 1798.
* * * The manner in which the early wheat (respecting which you enquire) came into this country is not ascertained. The history of it, so far as it has come to my knowledge, I will relate. A farmer walking in a field of wheat when it was in bloom, discovered a plant or two that was perfectly ripe, and carefully separating it from the rest sowed it at the usual time the following Autumn. From this small beginning (about 7 years ago) this State and those adjoining are well in seed, the grain is white full and heavy, weighing generally two or three pounds more in the bushel of Winchester measure. It makes excellent flour; and in tight loamy land inclining to sand it is said to be more productive of Grain, and less of straw than wheat in common. It is a tender plant and apt to receive damage both in the field and Garners. It will not from report bear transportation. Of a vessel load sent to Philadelphia for seed, hardly any of it vegitated, and some farmers go so far as to declare, that they are obliged to spread what is intended for seed thin on their barn floors and turn it frequently to prevent the injury above mentioned. From my own experience I can add but little, for as my land is heavy, stiff and slow, not much of it has been sown; but from the growth of the present year, I send you a sack, that by experiment you may ascertain the utility of cultivating it in England. It is fit to harvest three weeks sooner than the Lamas. To give it the best chance to escape injury on shipboard, I have requested the Owner of the vessel (a Mr. Wm. Wilson of Alexandria) to give it in particular charge to the Master, desiring him to keep the sack in his cabin or steerage.
The Egyptian wheat, a head or two of which you had the goodness to send me (about two years ago) has not answered with me. The first year it shot out lateral branches from the heads pretty generally; but this year the heads had hardly any and in neither year did the grain fill well, and appears to have sustained more injury from the severity of our last Winter, than the wheat in common, although that was great in the extreme, in the middle and upper parts of this and the States bordering thereon; occasioned by the long Winter and severe frosts, with very little snow. Nearer the Sea board, contrary to what is usual, they have had more Snow, and of course the crops of Winter grain are better, but on the whole they are remarkably short. With very great esteem, &c.
TO TIMOTHY PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
Mount Vernon, 11 July, 1798.
As I never get letters by the mail until the morning after they arrive in Alexandria, and frequently not for several days, as I am not regular in sending thither, your favor of the 6th instant did not reach my hands until yesterday.
Of the abilities and fitness of the gentleman you have named for a high command in the provisional army, I think as you do, and that his services ought to be secured at almost any price.1 What the difficulties are that present themselves to the mind of the President in opposition to this measure, I am entirely ignorant; but in confidence, and with the frankness with which you have disclosed your own sentiments on this occasion, I will unfold mine, under the view I have taken of the prospect before us, and shall do it concisely.
If the French should be so mad as openly and formidably to Invade these United States, in expectation of subjugating the government, laying them under contribution, or in hopes of dissolving the Union, I conceive there can hardly be two opinions respecting their Plan, and that their operations will commence in the Southern quarter. 1, because it is the weakest. 2, because they will expect, from the tenor of the debates in Congress, to find more friends there. 3, because there can be no doubt of their arming our own negroes against us. And 4, because they will be more contiguous to their Islands and to Louisiana, if they should be possessed thereof, which they will be if they can.
If these premises are just, the inference I am going to draw, from placing Colo. Hamilton over General Pinckney, is natural and obvious. The latter is an officer of high military reputation, fond of the Profession, spirited, active, and judicious, and much advanced in the estimation of the Public by his late conduct as minister and Envoy at Paris.1 With these pretensions, and being senior to Colo. Hamilton, he would not, I am morally certain, accept a junr. appointment. Disgust would follow, and its influence would spread where most to be deprecated, as his connexions are numerous, powerful, and more influential than any others in the three southern States. Under this view of the subject, I think it would be impolitic, and might be dangerous, to sow the seeds of discontent at so important a crisis. To this may be added, that impediments to the return of General Pinckney, and causes unforeseen, might place Colo. Hamilton in the situation you wish to see him. Inspector-General, with a command in ye line, would, I hope and trust, satisfy him. You will readily perceive, that the difficulty in my mind arises from thorough conviction, that, if an Invasion is attempted, it will commence South of Maryland, and from the importance of so influential a character as Pinckney (if among us) being heartily engaged in repelling it. But, not having the Laws at hand to refer to, or knowing precisely what General Officers are authorized by them, I am speaking much at random, and request for that reason that nothing which I have here said may be considered as definite.
What arrangements the Secretary of War is empowered by the President to make with me, I know not. In the letter of the former to me, he has not touched upon them. He is not yet arrived; but the bearer of this to the Post-office in Alexanda. carrys up my carriage in order to accommodate him down, this being the afternoon on which the mail-stage is expected at that place. I regret, however, that he should have left Philadelphia before a letter, which I had written to him, could have reached that place.
This letter went from here on friday last, before I knew, or had the most distant suspicion of the President’s intention of nominating me, (without previous notice,) to the trust he has. But was written in consequence of a wish expressed in a letter from the Secretary to me, that the crisis might overcome my reluctance to appear again on ye public theatre.
Upon this occasion, I thought it expedient, before matters proceeded further, to be candid and explicit, and accordingly wrote him my sentiments in detail, the substance of which was, that, if an actual Invasion by a formidable force, or such demonstrations of the intention as could not be mistaken, I conceive it to be a duty, wch. I owed to my Country and to my own reputation, to step forward with my best endeavors to repel it, however painful the measure might be to a person at my time of life, and under the circumstances I am; that, for the satisfaction of my own mind, I should like to know, from the best evidence the case was susceptible of, that my Services as Commander-in-Chief would be preferred to those of a man of more Juvenile years and more in the prime and vigor of life; and that, as neither ambition, Interest, nor personal gratification of any sort, could induce me to engage again in the turmoils and hazards of War, as I had every thing to risk and hardly any thing to gain (the vicissitudes of War being in the hands of the Supreme Director, where no control is), and, as the army was about to be formed, and every thing in a manner depending upon the arrangement and organization, it could not be expected that I would take the command of it without previously knowing who my Coadjutors were to be, and having the assistance of those in whom I could place confidence. I mentioned no names, for at that time I knew nothing of my own appointment, and thought the matter too much in embryo to go further, and to allow him, if a fit occasion occurred, to let these, as my sentiments, be known to the President. I shall conclude with great esteem and regard, dear Sir, &c.
TO JOHN ADAMS, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
Mount Vernon, 13 July, 1798.
I had the honor, on the evening of the 11th instant, to receive from the hands of the Secretary of War your favor of the 7th, announcing that you had, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appointed me Lieutenant-General and Commander-in-Chief of all the armies raised or to be raised for the service of the United States.
I cannot express how greatly affected I am at this new proof of public confidence, and the highly flattering manner in which you have been pleased to make the communication; at the same time I must not conceal from you my earnest wish, that the choice had fallen on a man less declined in years, and better qualified to encounter the usual vicissitudes of war.
You know, Sir, what calculations I had made relative to the probable course of events on my retiring from office, and the determination I had consoled myself with, of closing the remnant of my days in my present peaceful abode. You will, therefore, be at no loss to conceive and appreciate the sensations I must have experienced, to bring my mind to any conclusion that would pledge me, at so late a period of life, to leave Scenes I sincerely love, to enter upon the boundless field of public action, incessant trouble, and high responsibility.
It was not possible for me to remain ignorant of, or indifferent to, recent transactions. The conduct of the Directory of France towards our Country, their insidious hostility to its government, their various practices to withdraw the affections of the People from it, the evident tendency of their arts and those of their agents to countenance and invigorate opposition, their disregard of solemn treaties and the laws of nations, their war upon our defenceless commerce, their treatment of our minister of peace, and their demands amounting to tribute, could not fail to excite in me corresponding sentiments with those my countrymen have so generally expressed in their affectionate addresses to you. Believe me, Sir, no one can more cordially approve of the wise and prudent measures of your administration. They ought to inspire universal confidence, and will no doubt, combined with the state of things, call from Congress such laws and means, as will enable you to meet the full force and extent of the crisis.
Satisfied, therefore, that you have sincerely wished and endeavored to avert war, and exhausted to the last drop the cup of reconciliation, we can with pure hearts appeal to Heaven for the justice of our cause, and may confidently trust the final result to that kind Providence, who has heretofore and so often signally favored the people of these United States.
Thinking, in this manner, and feeling how incumbent it is upon every person of every description to contribute at all times to his country’s welfare, and especially in a moment like the present, when every thing we hold dear is so seriously threatened, I have finally determined to accept the Commission of Commander-in-Chief of the armies of the United States; with the reserve only, that I shall not be called into the field until the army is in a situation to require my presence, or it becomes indispensable by the urgency of circumstances.
In making this reservation I beg it to be understood, that I do not mean to withhold any assistance to arrange and organize the army, which you may think I can afford. I take the liberty also to mention, that I must decline having my acceptance considered as drawing after it any immediate charge upon the public, and that I cannot receive any emoluments annexed to the appointment, before entering into a Situation to incur expense.
The Secretary of War being anxious to return to the seat of Government, I have detained him no longer than was necessary to a full communication upon the several points he had in charge. With very great respect and consideration, I had the honor to be, &c.
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 14 July, 1798.
My dear Sir,
Your letter of the 8th instant, was presented to me by the Secretary of War on the 11th. I have consented to embark once more on a boundless field of responsibility and trouble, with two reservations, First, that the principal officers in the line and of the Staff shall be such as I can place confidence in; and that I shall not be called into the field, until the army is in a situation to require my presence, or it becomes indispensable by the urgency of circumstances; contributing, in the mean while, every thing in my power to its efficient organization, but nothing to the public expense until I am in a situation to incur expense myself.
It will be needless, after giving you this information, and having indelibly engraved on my mind the assurance contained in your letter of the 2d of June, to add that I rely upon you as a coadjutor and assistant in the turmoils I have consented to encounter.
I have communicated very fully with the Secretary of War on the several matters contained in the powers vested in him by the President, who, as far as it appears by them, is well disposed to accommodate. But I must confess, that, besides nominating me to the command of the armies without any previous consultation or notice, the whole of that business seems to me to stand upon such ground as may render the Secretary’s journey and our consultation of no avail.
Congress, it is said, would rise this week. What then has been done, or can the President do, with respect to appointments under that bill, if it has been enacted? Be his inclinations what they may, unless a law could and has passed, enabling him in the recess of the Senate to make appointments conformable thereto, the nominations must have been made, and the business done here with the Secretary is rendered nugatory.
By the pending Bill, if it passes to a Law, two Major-Generals and an Inspector-genl. with the Rank of Majr.-General, and three brigadiers are to be appointed. Presuming on its passing, I have given the following as my sentiments respecting the following characters fit and proper to be employed, in which the Secretary concurs.
And I have enumerated the most prominent characters, that have occurred to my mind, from whom to select field-officers for the Regiments of Infantry and that of Cavalry, which are proposed to be raised.
And now, my dear Sir, with that candor, which you always have and I trust ever will experience from me, I shall express to you a difficulty, which has arisen in my mind relative to seniority between you and Genl Pinckney; for, with respect to my friend, General Knox, whom I love and esteem, I have ranked him below you both. That you may know from whence this difficulty proceeds, it is proper I should observe, and give it as my decided opinion, that, if the French should be so mad as to Invade this Country in expectation of making a serious impression, that their operations will commence in the States south of Maryland.1 * * *
If these premises are just, the inference is obvious, that the Services and Influence of General Pinckney in the southern States would be of the highest and most interesting importance. Will he serve, then, under one whom he will consider a junr officer? And what would be the consequence, if he should refuse, and his numerous and powerful connexions and acquaintances in those parts get disgusted? You have no doubt heard, that his military reputation stands high in the Southern States; that he is viewed as a brave, intelligent, and enterprising officer; and, if report be true, that no officer in the late American army made Tactics and the art of War so much his study. To this account of him may be added, that his character has received much celebrity by his conduct as minister and envoy at Paris.
Under this view of the subject, my wish to put you first, and my fear of losing him, are not a little embarrassing. But why? For after all, it rests with the President to use his pleasure. I shall only add, therefore, that, as the welfare of the country is the object I persuade myself we all have in view, I shall sanguinely hope, that smaller matters will yield to measures, which have a tendency to promote it. I wish devoutly, that either of you, or any other fit character had been nominated in my place; for no one can make a greater sacrifice, at least of inclination, than will your ever affectionate, &c.
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 16 July, 1798.
My dear Sir,
Little did I imagine, when I retired from the theatre of public life, that it was probable or even possible, that any event would arise in my day, that could induce me to entertain for a moment an idea of relinquishing the tranquil walks and refreshing shades, with which I am surrounded. But it is in vain, I perceive, to look for ease and happiness in a world of troubles.
The call of my country, and the urgency of my friends to comply with it, have produced a letter from me to the President of the United States, which probably will be given to the public; but, if it should not, the principal feature thereof is, that, with the reservation of not being called into the Field until the army is in a situation to require my presence, or it becomes indispensable by the urgency of circumstances, that I will accept the commission with which the Secretary of War came charged; Desiring, however, that it might be understood, that my coadjutors in the first grades and principal staff of the army must be men in whom I could place entire confidence; for that it was not to be expected, at my time of life, that I would forsake the ease and comforts, which are essential in old age, encounter the toils and vicissitudes of War with all its concomitants, and jeopardize the reputation which the partiality of the World has been pleased to bestow on me, (when the hazard of diminishing is at least equal to the prospect of increasing it,) without securing such assistance as would enable me to go with confidence into such a field of responsibility.
After this exordium, it is almost unnecessary to add, that I have placed you among those characters on whom I wish to lean for support. But, my dear Sir, as you always have found, and trust ever will find, candor a prominent trait of my character, I must add, that causes, which would exceed the limits of an ordinary letter to explain, are in the way of such an arrangement as might render your situation perfectly agreeable; but I fondly hope, that the difficulty will not be insurmountable in your decision.
For the present and augmented force three Major-Generals and four Brigadiers are allowed by the act establishing the latter; and, in a consultation with the Secretary of War, the characters proposed for the former are Colo. Hamilton, Gen. Chas. Cotesworth Pinckney, and yourself. The first of these in the public estimation, as declared to me, is designated to be second in command; with some fears, I confess, of the consequences, although I must acknowledge, at the same time, that I know not where a more competent choice could be made. General Pinckney’s character as an active, spirited, and intelligent officer, you are acquainted with, and know that it stands very high in the southern States, it being understood there, that he made Tactics as much if not more his study than any officer in the American army during the last War. His character in other respects in that quarter, before his late Embassy, was also high, and throughout the Union it has acquired celebrity by his conduct as Minister and Envoy. His connexions are numerous, and their influence extensive. But most of all with me when to these considerations I add, as my decided opinion, (for reasons unnecessary to enumerate,) that, if the French intend an Invasion of this country in force, their operations will commence south of Maryland, and probably of Virginia, you will see at once the importance of embarking this gentleman and all his connexions heartily in the active scenes that would follow, instead of damping their ardor, and thereby giving more activity to the leaven that is working in others, where unanimity of sentiment would be most desirable.
Viewing things in this light, I would fain hope, as we are forming an army anew, which army, if needful at all, is to fight for every thing which ought to be dear and sacred to freemen, that former rank will be forgot, and, among the fit and chosen characters, the only contention will be, who shall be foremost in zeal at this crisis to serve his country, in whatever situation circumstances may place him. Most of those, who are best qualified to oppose the enemy, will have sacrifices of ease, Interest, or Inclination to make. But what are these, when put in competition with the loss of our Independence, or the subjugation of our Government? Both of which are evidently struck at, by an intoxicated, ambitious, and domineering Foe.
The arrangement made with the Secretary of War is on a separate sheet of paper, and meant for your perusal alone, until the decision of the President relative to it is announced.
With that esteem and regard, which you know I feel for you, I remain your sincere friend and affectionate servant.
P. S. From the best recollection I have of them, the Secretary of War is furnished with a list of Field and other officers of the late army, of most celebrity, from whence to draw the Field-Officers for the corps to be raised. If you wd afford your aid also, it would be obliging.
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 22 July, 1798.
Your favor of the 18th was brought by the post of yesterday. The nominations, according to your list, will be agreeable to me, although I retain the opinion that Colo. Smith is better calculated for a command in the line than for Adjutant-General. But what have you done respecting the QuarterMaster-General? I hope and trust it is not intended to overlook the character I recommended in pointed terms, than whom, I will confidently add, one more adequate is not to be found in the U. States, let the operations of the army be in what quarter it will, nor so fit, if they be in the States south of Maryland, as he knows and is known by every one in those Regions, being the Deputy QuarterMaster General under General Greene in all his active movements; and as much esteemed, as he is extensively known. In a word, if this appointment does not take place, after my explanations, (which I was careful to have well understood respecting this officer,) and after it was given specially in charge to you to consult me thereon, I shall feel very much hurt on the general ground I took. And more so, by confiding with certainty that that officer, for the reasons I assigned, would be made agreeable to me, I wrote to Colo. Carrington, & received the answer herewith enclosed, which may be returned after the proper use is made of it.1
I desire it may be understood, that my predilection for this gentleman proceeds from no other cause, than a full conviction of his fitness to fill the office to which he was assigned in my mind; for having been separated from the main army, he is infinitely better known to me by character than from personal acquaintance (which in fact is slight), and by the steady & firm support he has given to the Government ever since. Such a character, his military knowledge, intelligence, and experience in the duties of QuarterMaster would render him an acquisition to any army; and the only fear I had was, that he would decline accepting it. The present Qr Master Wilkins (I think his name is) may be adequate to the civil duties of that office; & while the present Troops are doing Garrison duty in the Western Country, little more is necessary; but bring him to an assembled & moving army in the field, where encampments & a thousand Military duties would be thrown upon him, and he would be found altogether incompetent, from an entire unacquaintedness with the scenes.
By what circuitous route did you come at Severe1 in the wilderness? He may be an estimable character for ought I know; but, from the impression I have of him, he is better qualified to cut off Indians, than to discipline an army and lead a Brigade to the mouths of Cannon. But, as I may have mistaken his character, I shall halt here with my strictures on it.
Also enclosed you will receive a letter from John Tayloe Esqr. to me, whom you must know by character, being the brother of Mrs. Lloyd, & son-in-law of Mr. Ogle of Annapolis. He is among the most wealthy & respectable men in this State, active, zealous, & attentive to whatever he undertakes. On the Western expedition against the Insurgents, he commanded a Troop of horse, and (I believe, but am not sure,) was aid to the Commander-in-Chief. What he looks to now beyond the expression of his letter, I know not. With respect to the more definite part of it, I have one answer, and that has been & will be given to every application, (unless some very particular case should come forward,) namely that until I take the field, or am in a situation to require Aids, I shall hold myself perfectly disengaged and free; as, in the choice of my (established ones), there are many considerations besides the mere indulgence of my wishes to be combined. In addition to this, I have informed Mr. Tayloe, that I would transmit his letter to you, to be laid before the President, not doubting it would give him, as it had done me, Pleasure to find Gentlemen in his situation, and of Independent fortune, stepping forward at such a Crisis, with a tender of their Services.
I presume he would prefer an appointment in the Cavalry, and I have no doubt that he could raise a very fine troop; but whether he would be satisfied with that, or whether more could be offered with due attention to the old Cavalry Officers of known and acknowledged celebrity, I am not prepared to decide. Possibly such an appointment, with the privilege of chusing his own Lieutenant & Cornet, might induce his acceptance. And here I will take the liberty of giving it as my opinion once for all, that, when the President has fixed upon officers of established character to Command Companies, Gentlemen who prise their own honour and the reputation of their companies, it would be good policy to let them chuse or at least to recommend their own subalterns. It would facilitate recruiting, contribute much to the harmony of the Company, and, if the Captain himself is properly chosen, it may be relied on, that he will be cautious not to hazard his own and the reputation of his company with bad officers, if known or even suspected to be unfit for his purpose.
I do not recollect enough of the present officers in the Cavalry, or of those who have been disbanded, to say with decision which of them is best entitled to the Command of that Corps; but I have no hesitation in declaring it as my opinion, that Major Tallmadge (formerly of Sheldon’s horse) would not disgrace it, & is to be preferred to his former Colonel.
In furnishing the list I gave you when here, from whom Field-Officers might be selected for the Corps to be raised, I omitted, (not seeing his name enrolled), Major Ragsdale of the Artillery. His character in that Corps, I am told stood high. How it has happened, that he is yet in the back-ground, whether from choice or because he has been overlooked, I am unable to say. He is of this State, as Tallmadge is of New York.
A Lieut. Marsteller, (at present of the troop of horse in Alexandria,) has been recommended to me as a man wishing and deserving of an appointment in the army about to be raised. A Doctr. Peyton, son of a very worthy man, and brother to two of the best officers in Lee’s Corps of horse during the Revolution War, has also applied for a birth in the Medical line. I have answered, that appointments are not with me, that recommendations accompanying my letters to them should go to the President direct, or through the Secretary of War. Possibly you may see these. They must speak for themselves.
The first is well spoken of as an officer and Gentleman. He was in the horse in the Western Expedition, and by accident received a wound. The other (Dr. Peyton) is but lately returned after an absence of five years in Europe, I believe in the study of Physick. I have also been told, that the Captain (Young) of the Alexandria Troop is desirous of employment; but, as his application has not been direct, I but barely mention the fact. Doctr. Craik did say something, too, respecting his son (who was in my family) going into the army; but, as nothing definite passed, I shall say nothing more on the subject. His son-in-law, West, (Major in one of the Uniform Corps,) is desirous, in case the Provisional Army is raised, of obtaining an appointment therein. And now, having laid before you every thing that has occur’d to me—I shall add no more at present, than that I am.
P. S. I don’t know whether Mr. Edwd Rutledge would come forward, or not, but I know of none except Genl Knox who would comd. the Corps of Artillery more respectably.
TO JAMES ANDERSON.
Mount Vernon, 25 July, 1798.
Your favor of the 8th February came safe, and would have received an earlier acknowledgment, if any thing had sooner occurred worthy of communication.
I hope you have not only got relieved of the fever from which you were then recovering, but of the languor with which it had affected you, and that you are now engaged in the literary pursuits, of which you gave the outlines, and which, with your pen and under your arrangement of the subjects, must be curious, entertaining, and instructive. Thus persuaded, if you propose to conduct the work on the plan of subscription, it would give me pleasure to be enrolled in the list of subscribers.1
I little imagined, when I took my last leave of the walks of public life, that any event could bring me again on a public theatre. But the unjust conduct of France towards these United States has been and continues to be such, that it must be opposed by a firm and manly resistance, or we shall not only hazard the subjugation of our government, but the independence of our nation also; both being evidently struck at by a lawless, domineering power, which respects no rights, and is restrained by no treaties, when it is found inconvenient to observe them.
While we are thus situated, sustaining daily injuries, even indignities, with a patient forbearance, from a sincere desire to live in peace and harmony with all the world; the French Directory, mistaking the American character, and supposing that the people of this country were divided, and would give countenance to their nefarious measures, have proceeded to exact loans (or in other words contributions), and to threaten us, in case of non-compliance with their wild, unfounded, and inconsistent complaints, that we should share the fate of Venice and other Italian states.
This has roused the people from their slumbers, and filled them with indignation from one extremity to the other of the Union; and I trust, if they should attempt to carry their threats into effect, and invade our territorial, as they have done our commercial rights, they will meet a spirit, that will give them more trouble than they are aware of, in the citizens of these States.
When every thing sacred and dear to freemen is thus threatened, I could not, consistently with the principles which have actuated me through life, remain an idle spectator, and refuse to obey the call of my country to lead its armies for defence, and therefore have pledged myself to come forward whensoever the exigency shall require it.
With what sensations, at my time of life, now turned of sixty-six, without ambition or interest to stimulate me thereto, I shall relinquish the peaceful walk to which I had retired, and in the shades of which I had fondly hoped to spend the remnant of a life, worn down with cares, in contemplation of the past, and in scenes present and to come of rural enjoyment, let others, and especially those who are best acquainted with the construction of my mind, decide; while I, believing that man was not designed by the all-wise Creator to live for himself alone, prepare for the worst that can happen.
The gardener, whom you were so obliging as to send me, continues to conduct himself extremely well. He is industrious, sober, and orderly, and understands his business. In short, I never had a hired servant that pleased me better; and what adds to my satisfaction is, that he is himself contented, having declared that he never was happier in his life. My best wishes will always attend you, and, with very great esteem and regard, I am, Sir, &c.
TO JAMES McHENRY.
Mount Vernon, 27 July, 1798.
The Greyheads of Alexandria, pretty numerous it seems, and composed of all the respectable old People of the place; having formed themselves into a company1 for the defence of the Town & its Vicinity, are in want of Colors; and it being intimated that the Presentation of them by Mrs Washington would be flattering to them; I take the liberty of requesting the favor of you to have made and sent to me as soon as it is convenient, such as will be appropriate to the occasion. Handsome, but not more expensive than becomes Republicans (not Bachite Republicans) is reqd. If you think a Motto would be proper, the choice of one “chaste & unassuming”—is left to your own judgment. Send the cost, & the money shall be remitted by yours always.
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 29 July, 1798.
Your letter of the 25th instant came to Alexandria yesterday evening, and was put into my hands this morn. For the rules and regulations accompanying it, I thank you, and will read them attentively, if I am allowed time; but this is questionable, as I am assailed from all quarters, and by all descriptions of people, for Commissions, Introductions, and recommendations &c; to all of which common civility makes some sort of reply necessary, while among them there are a few, to whom more particular answers must be given.
This leads me to ask whether a Secretary, previous to the contingencies on which my taking the field is placed, will be allowed? The pay I mean. Without which the moments employed in my usual and necessary avocations, and which at all leisure hours I have been devoting to the arrangement and overhaul of my voluminous public papers, civil and military, that they may go into secure deposits, and hereafter into hands, that may be able to separate the grain from the Chaff; I say, without this aid, my time (and in truth I had from a variety of causes, which it is needless to enumerate, little enough before) will be entirely taken up by personal visits and written applications for office, and such other matters as are incidental to my late appointment.
The motives to this question are explained. The necessity I conceive is apparent; but, as I have placed my own services, pay, and emoluments upon contingencies, which may happen sooner or later, or never, you are to decide, and accordingly advise, whether or not a Secretary can be appointed previously to this event, with the pay and forage allowance annexed to the office or not.1
You will not have transmitted you the half, perhaps not a tenth part of the applications, which are made to me. It may be taken for granted, therefore, that all who appear to you under my auspices are such, as I am either personally acquainted with their families, or am satisfied with the recommendations they bring.
Your answers to Mr. Caton and Judge Chase were judicious and proper. Of the propriety of remaining perfectly free from all engagements, respecting my aids, I am more and more convinced, as the applications encrease, and the little knowledge displayed of the qualifications, which the aids of the Commander-in-Chief ought to possess, is discovered by the applicants. The variegated and important duties of the Aids of a Commander-in-Chief, or the Commander of a separate Army, require experienced Officers, men of Judgment, and men of business, with ready pens to execute them properly and with dispatch. A great deal more is required of them than attending him at a parade, or delivering verbal orders here and there or copying a written one. They ought, if I may be allowed to use the expression, to possess the soul of the General; and, from a single idea given to them, to convey his meaning in the clearest and fullest manner. This, young men, unacquainted with the service and diffident, would not do, be their abilities what they may. One or two of the latter, as extra, might be received, but the choice must depend on circumstances.
Why do you not say something about the Quarter-Master-General and Adjutant-General? I am thrown entirely into the field of conjecture, to account for the cause of silence on these interesting points; nor am I relieved in either by the Gazettes, except by a blind account in Bache’s that Col. Smith as Brigadier did not obtain. Will Col. Hamilton accept? Have you heard from the other General Officers? My paper is done, & I am always yours.
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 9 August, 1798.
My dear Sir,
Your letter of the 29th ultimo has filled my mind with disquietude and perplexity in the extreme; but I will say nothing in reply intentionally, that shall give you a moment’s pain. Indeed, from the tenor of your letter, it would seem as if nothing I could say now would be of any avail, after the open, candid, and I think friendly communications in my letter of the 16th of July, assigning reasons for what had been done, which could not, I conceive, be construed into a supposed inferiority on your part by me. But, as there are some things in your letter, which appear to have originated in a misconception of circumstances, justice to myself makes it necessary to explain.
When I observe, then, that the first knowledge I had of my own appointment, nay, the first intimation that such a measure was in contemplation was contained in a newspaper, as a complete act of the President and Senate, accompanied with a few lines from the Secretary of War of equal date (July 4th), informing me that he should be the bearer of my commission, and the President’s Instructions to make some, but does not say what arrangements;—when, with this information I was left, from the receipt thereof until the arrival of the Secretary on the night of the 11th, with sensations occasioned thereby easier to conceive than describe;—and when, upon his arrival I was presented with a pending Bill for augmenting the army of the United States, and informed at the same time, that Congress would, (as it actually did,) adjourn the Monday following, (16,) what was to be done? My earnest desire, often repeated, was, that Congress could be prevailed on, circumstanced as things were, to vest a power in the President to make appointments in the recess of the Senate, rather than precipitate the organization of an army, that time might be allowed for a deliberate and harmonious consultation in the arrangement of the General Officers at least; and I offered to attend in Philadelphia myself, and send for Colo. Hamilton and you to meet me there, for this very desirable purpose. I even hastened precipitately Mr. McHenry’s return, in hopes he might be back in time to accomplish this object, guarding, however, against the failure.
Under this statement, which you will find correct, how was it possible for me, who have never in the remotest degree directly or indirectly interfered in any matter of government since I left the Chair of it, to have consulted you previously to the nomination of the General Officers? And if giving in your name without, in the manner it was handed to the President, which seemed to be the result of necessity, proceeding from causes which have been communicated, is considered as a wound to your feelings, might I not complain upon ground equally strong and hurtful to mine? Brought as I was, without the least intimation, before the Public after it had been officially announced to the world, and I hope, believed, that my soul panted for rest, and that the first wish of my heart was to spend the remnant of a life worn down with care in ease and contemplation, but left as I was by this act without an alternative, or with a very disagreeable one, I passed it over in silence, from a conviction, that, if affairs are in the alarming state they are represented to be, that I was not to complain or stand upon punctilios.
So soon as my nomination as Commander-in-Chief was given in by the President, to which, (according to Mr. McHenry’s account,) he was induced, without consulting me, by the urgency of his friends, I was inundated with letters, describing the crisis and the expediency of my accepting the command.
Through the same channel, and from information I had no cause to distrust, no doubt remained on my mind, that Colo. Hamilton was designated second in command, and first, if I should decline an acceptance, by the federal characters of Congress; whence alone anything like a public sentiment relative thereto could be deduced. On this authority the paragraph, which you quoted from my letter, was founded. I pretend to no other knowledge of the business.
The moment I had resolved to accept the command, with the reservations mentioned in my letter to the President, now before the Public, my first care was to look for coadjutors with whom I could be happy, and in whom I could place entire confidence. A second thought was not necessary for this in the Majr.-Generals for the augmented army; but to arrange them, with an attention to the various views the subject presented, was not easy.
In a free and candid strain I frankly declared to you in my last the principle, and the only principle, which operated in the arrangement of Genl. Pinckney; but, as I was more concise on this head as it related to Colo. Hamilton, I will ask your patience while I detail the reasons, which prevailed in his case.
1. Having already informed you of the evidence, (as given to me,) of the public wish that he should be second in command, if I accepted, and first, if I did not, it is unnecessary to repeat it. 2. Considering the military establishment of this country was about to take a new form, and to commence as it were de novo, without any particular regard to an army which had been disbanded near fourteen years, I conceived that the President, in the choice of officers and arrangement of them, would pay as much attention to circumstances as to former rank. Not supposing, then, that the latter would be viewed in so serious a light, as appears by your letter, I shall readily acknowledge, that I had recourse to no old resolves of Congress, nor did I recollect any that would apply to the case. 3. I might in some measure have been led into this belief, from what happened in consequence of the Insurrection in 1794. Then, you will recollect, Genl. Lee, who had never been more than a Colo. in the army of the U. S., was put over the heads of Mifflin, Irvine, Morgan, and Bland, all of whom had been General Officers in the said Service; not because he was Governor of Virginia, for the moment he crossed the Potomac, which he was obliged to do to get at the insurgents, his office and power as Governor ceased. 4. The same communication of the wishes, that Colo. Hamilton might be second in command, conveyed intimation also, that, from his situation and prospects, having a large family and no certain dependence but his profession, which was lucrative, something as nearly adequate, as the case would admit, ought to be offered to induce his acceptance, and the 2nd rank was proposed. 5. Though his services during the War were not rendered in the grade of a General Officer, yet his opportunities and experience could not be short of those that did;—and 6, adding these to the important trusts reposed in him in various civil walks of life, he will be found, I trust, upon as high ground as most men in the U. States.
I do not know that these explanations will afford you any satisfaction, or produce any change in your determination, but it was just to myself to make them. If there has been any management in the business, it has been concealed from me. I have had no agency therein, nor have I conceived a thought on the subject, that has not been disclosed to you with the utmost sincerity and frankness of heart. And notwithstanding the insinuations, wch are implied in your letter, of the vicissitudes of friendship, and the inconstancy of mine, I will pronounce with decision, that it ever has been, still is, and, notwithstanding the unkindness of the charge, ever will be, (for aught I know to the contrary,) warm and sincere.
I earnestly wished, on account of that friendship, as well as on the score of military talents, to have had the assistance of you and Colonel Hamilton in the arduous contest with which we are threatened. I wish it still and devoutly, as well on public as on private accounts; for dissensions of this sort will have an unhappy effect among the friends of Government, while it will be sweet consolation to the French partisans, and food for their Pride.1 * * *
Lengthy as this letter is I must ask leave to make an observation on the following passage in yours, which I hope inadvertently escaped you. Speaking of Genl. Officers you say, if so “New England which must furnish the majority of the Army, if one shall be raised, will be without a Major General or have the junr. one.—Whether they will possess such a sense of inferiority as to bear such a state of things patiently—whether their zeal & confidence will thereby be excited, time will discover.” I hope in God that at no time, much less the present, when everything sacred & dear is threatened, that local distinctions & little jealousies will be done away. If the arrangement NA who comd affect New England, Massachusetts NA, of three Major General’s & three Brigadiers, for the augmented Army would have two? of each, and from New Jersey & P— —ward there are four out of six. What distribution more equal could be made with the strictest eye to locality or Geographical refinement; may it not be asked what advantage would a State or States derive from the Senior more than the junr. Major General, equal privileges being attached to all on the same establishment? except that the Senior in the usual routine has the best chance of being Commander in chief.
I will now close my letter, spun to an infinitely greater length than I expected when I began, with a solemn declaration, that if such powers as I suggested in the early part of this letter had, (as I think they ought, under the circumstances of the case) been given to the President, and the consequent meeting had taken place in Philadelphia, I should have been perfectly satisfied with any arrangement, that would have produced harmony and content; for nothing could be farther from my wish, than to see you in a degraded point of view. How the commissions are dated I know not. I am, as I ever have been, my dear Sir, your sincere friend and affectionate servant.
TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
Mount Vernon, 9 August, 1798.
My dear Sir,
By the same Post which brought me your favor, began in Philadelphia and ended in New York the 1st instant, I received a letter from General Knox dated the 29th ulto. in answer to one I had written him on the 16th of that month.—In confidence, and as a proof of my frankness and friendship, I send both of them to you, together with my reply of this date;—which, after reading be so good as to return to me.—
Giving you the perusal of this correspondence, supercedes the necessity of my going into further details on the subject of relative rank;—except, if the Commissions are yet to issue, and it be practicable at this time, and consistent also, I should not be indisposed (so far as my agency in the business extends, if that would satisfy General Knox,) to make him the senior of General Pinckney.—But as the President is absent—and it might have been the understanding of the Senate that the latter should be first—the propriety of the change, unless it could be effected with the consent of Gen. Pinckney, might at least be questioned.—Though upon more mature reflection I do not see upon what principle he could object.—I have a high opinion of General Pinckney’s qualifications as an officer, and his integrity as a man, but under the impression I am that the Southern Hemisphere will be the grand theatre of action, I shall honestly confess that my primary object in gratifying him is, that he may come forward with all his force.—
Your opinion respecting the unfitness of a certain Gentleman1 for the office he holds, accords with mine, and it is to be regretted, sorely, at this time that these opinions are so well founded.—I early discovered, after he entered upon the Duties of his office that his talents were unequal to great exertions, or deep resources.—In truth they were not expected;—for the fact is, it was a Hobson’s choice.—But such is the case, and what is to be done?
I am held in the most profound ignorance of every step that has been taken since he left this place;—and but, for other letters which I have been obliged to have ready for this days Post, I should have written very seriously to him on several matters, highly interesting to me, if I am to be called to the field; and that which you have mentioned among the rest.—I am not at this moment, made acquainted with a single step that is taken to appoint an Officer or Recruit a man, or where the rendezvouses are.—Numberless applications have been made to me, to be recommended for Commissions, and such as appeared to have merit I forwarded, but know nothing of the Result.—
Let me hope that you will be able to devote a good deal of your time to the business of recruiting good men, and the choice of good officers. It is all important. I will endeavor to impress him with propriety of requiring your assistance in these matters; and of the necessity of making you the full allowance of Pay, &c. for these services.—By bringing you thus in contact, a thousand other matters will fall in of course.—Delicacy—if matters became serious, must yield to expediency.—The stake we play for is too great to be trifled with.
Mr. Harper has been presented to my consideration before, as an Aid-de Camp, but as I shall have no use for my military family until matters are more matured, I am unwilling to be embarrassed by engagements. My Aids, as you well know, must be men of business; and ought to be officers of experience.—Many, very many young Gentlemen of the first families in the Country, have offered their services;—and all have received one answer, to the above effect. Indeed in the choice of my Aids, a variety of considerations must combine—political—geographical, &c, as well as experience.
What is become of Walker? Colo. Heth has offered and stands well in my estimation, without a promise.—No Foreigner will be admitted as a member of my family, while I retain my present ideas;—nor do I think they ought to be in any situation where they can come at secrets—and betray a trust.—
Write me as often as you can conveniently;—and believe me to be what I really am
Your sincere & affecte friend.
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 10 August, 1798.
My dear Sir,
You will consider this letter as private and confidential, dictated by friendship, and flowing from the best intentions. If then anything should be found therein, which may have too much the appearance of plain dealing, look to the motives and manner of the communication, and my apology will be sought for in your candor.
From the moment I accepted my appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States, I considered myself as nearly allied to the Secretary of War, and entitled to particular attentions from him, notwithstanding I drew no pay, nor was acting in the field. It could not have been supposed had it not otherwise been expressed, that I would be called to the army in the moment of danger as ignorant of its formation, its munitions, and every thing relating thereto, as if I had just dropped from the clouds.
My solicitude often and strongly expressed, relatively to the formation of the Army, could not but have impressed you with my ideas of its importance; but, if stronger evidence was necessary, the offer I made to go at this hot season, and in other respects inconvenient, to Philadelphia, would be conclusive. But what fruit has it produced? To this moment I am ignorant of every step, that has been taken in the appointment of the Battalion Officers, for recruiting the men, fixing the places of Rendezvous, &c.
With respect to the Quarter Master-General, finding no mention made of one in the list of appointments, nor any thing said of him in your letter of the 18th of July announcing them, I waited some time to see if any explanation of this matter would be given; but, finding none, I wrote to you on the 22d of that month to be informed of the cause, and not until the first of this was I answered. And, with respect to the Adjutant-General, I am to this moment unadvised of the result of Colo. Smith’s nomination. I have heard, indeed, that Colo. North was appointed, and that it had been announced in the Newspapers; but this I have not seen, altho’ I have examined them with an eye to it, as accurately as my hurried situation would allow.
Having staked my life, my reputation, my fortune, my ease, tranquillity, and happiness, in support of the Government and Independence of our Country, it is not a little interesting and important for me to be advised of the measures, which you are pursuing to organize and provide for the augmented force. For as that act is absolute, no delay can be admitted; and it is much to be desired, that it may take the field with éclat, which will not be effected without great exertion. And, as it will not be supposed that the President, well-disposed, sensible, and zealous as he is, can have many relative ideas in arrangements of this sort, more responsibility will attach to you; and, as the multiplicity of matters and burthens will be great, let me entreat you to call on the Inspector, (allowing him full pay and emoluments,) for assistance. The business of recruiting, in the result, belongs to his Department. Then why not let it commence and be prosecuted, agreeably to your general instructions to him, under his auspices?
It is much easier at all times to prevent an evil than to rectify mistakes; it is infinitely better to have a few good men than many indifferent ones. Officers, whose Recruiting emoluments depend upon numbers, will not be very scrupulous in their choice, without the fullest conviction that the Inspection of the men will be as rigid as the Instructions that are given. You would, besides, find him in your hurried situation extremely useful in a variety of occurrences, which cannot always be foreseen or provided against. I would have suggested a similar measure, with respect to General Knox, as it related more particularly to Arms and the Ordnance Department, but (under the rose for the present) he seems to be so much dissatisfied with the arrangement of the relative rank of the General Officers, that I have no expectation of his serving.
Let me conclude by requesting to be informed, in what state the formation of the augmented corps is; whether the applications for Commissions are numerous and the characters good; what arrangements are made for recruiting; where the general rendezvous are to be; who are appointed to superintend them; what is the present state of your Military supplies; what the means and what the measures for augmenting them. With much truth and sincerity, I remain your affectionate.1
TO WILLIAM VANS MURRAY.
Mount Vernon, 10 August, 1798.
I doubt not but you have already set me down as an unprofitable correspondent, and with too much truth perhaps;—but not with as much culpability on my part as appearances may indicate.—
I have written you several letters and having put one or two for Mr. Dandridge under your covers, without receiving any acknowledgment of them, the presumption is that they have fallen into other hands. Nothing, however, was contained in either of them, that could entitle them to the honor of a place in the Bureaus of France to which several of my private letters it seems have found a passage.—And but for the impropriety of such conduct, and the deprivation and invasion of another’s Right, all might go, as I write or say nothing I wish to conceal from that nation. My politicks being straight and my views undisguised towards it and all others.
In examining my file of unanswered letters, I find two of yours dated the 9th of Octr. and 1st of Novr. among them. In acknowledging the Rect. of which permit me to thank you for the interesting communications which are detailed therein; and to express a wish that in your moment of leisure, you would favor me with a continuation of matters so satisfactory to be informed of.
I should have wrote oftener to you, if in retirement I had found matter sufficient for amusement:—but revolving days producing similar scenes of domestic & rural occurrences,—none interesting except to those who were engaged in them; knowing that all things of public concern together with the Gazettes, of different complexions were regularly transmitted to you, from the proper Department and knowing also that you had friends near the fountain of Intelligence, who were in the habit of corresponding with you, I conceived that the details of the latter kind from one might be less correct and at best but second-hand information & therefore avoid giving you the trouble to receive it.
But new and unexpected scenes opening upon us, and all the plans of my retirement likely to be marred, by the Domineering Spirit and boundless ambition of a nation whose Turpitude have set all obligations divine & human at naught, may in time to come enable me to communicate some things more Interesting than are to be found in the circle of my present perambulations, in doing which I shall always feel pleasure.
Little did I think when my Valadictory address was presented to the people of the United States that any event would occur in my day that could draw me from the peaceful walks and tranquil shades of Mount Vernon: where I had fondly hoped to spend the remnant of a life, worn down with public cares, in ruminating the variegated scenes through which I have passed and in the contemplation of others which are yet in embrio.
I will hope however that when the Despots of France find how much they have mistaken the American character, and how much they have been deceived by their partizans among us, that their senses will return to them and an appeal to arms for the purpose of repeling an Invasion at least will be rendered unnecessary. To be prepared for them however is the most certain and perhaps the least expensive mode of averting the evil.—Neither they nor their abetors here expected I believe that such a Spirit would be roused as the occasion has manifested among all classes of citizens except the leaders of Opposition—Upon their obtaining correct Statements of the Treatment they have recd. from their good and Magnanimous Allies. The difficulty under which they will find themselves lie, in treading back their steps,—But Envoy Logan may be sent to keep them out of it;1 —or which is to the full as likely, to Direct them into another course to obtain the same end.
Present me if you please to Mrs. Murray; in which Mrs. Washington and Miss Custis unite as they do to yourself and in remembrance to Mr. Dandridge, and be assured of the Sincere Regard & Esteem of, Dear Sir, &c.
TO JONATHAN BOUCHER.
Mount Vernon, 15 August, 1798.
I know not how it is happened, but the fact is, that your favor of the 8th of November last year is but just received, and at a time when both public and private business pressed so hard upon me, as to afford no leisure to give the “View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution,” written by you, and which you had been pleased to send me a perusal. For the honor of its dedication, and for the friendly and favorable sentiments which are therein expressed, I pray you to accept my acknowledgments and thanks.
Not having read the book, it follows of course that I can express no opinion with respect to its political contents; but I can venture to assert beforehand and with confidence, that there is no man in either country more zealously devoted to peace and a good understanding between the two nations than I am, nor one who is more disposed to bury in oblivion all animosities, which have subsisted between them, and the individuals of each.
Peace with all the world is my sincere wish. I am sure it is our true policy, and am persuaded it is the ardent desire of the government. But there is a nation, whose intermeddling and restless disposition, and attempts to divide, distract, and influence the measures of other countries, will not suffer us, I fear, to enjoy this blessing long, unless we will yield to them our rights, and submit to greater injuries and insults, than we have already sustained, to avoid the calamities resulting from war.
What will be the consequences of our arming for self-defence, that Providence which permits these doings in the disturbers of mankind, and which rules and governs all things, alone can tell. To its all-powerful decrees we must submit, whilst we hope, that the justice of our cause, if war must ensue, will entitle us to its protection. With very great esteem, I am, &c.
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 27 August, 1798.
My dear Bushrod,
At the time your letter of the 20th instant (with others) was brought to this place, I was not in a situation to acknowledge the receipt of it. And no post has happened since by which I could do it,—that of to morrow of which I shall avail myself will be the first which offers.
On the 18th at night I was seized with a fever, of which I took little notice until the 21st when I was obliged to call for the aid of medicine; and with difficulty a remission thereof was, so far effected as to dose me all night on thursday with Bark—which having stoped it, and weakness only remaining, will soon wear off as my appetite is returning.
I learnt with much pleasure, from the postscript to your letter, of General Marshall’s intention to make me a visit.1 I wish it of all things; and it is from the ardent desire I have to see him, that I have not delayed a moment to express it, lest, if he should have intended it on his way to Frederic, and hear of my indisposition, he might change his route.
I can add with sincerity and truth, that, if you can make it comport with your business, I should be exceedingly happy to see you along with him. The crisis is important. The temper of the people in this State, in many at least in some places, is so violent and outrageous, that I wish to converse with General Marshall and yourself on the elections, which must soon come.
The fictitious letter of John Langhorne may be had at any time. I do not send it now, because if you come up it will do then, and we will let General Marshall into the whole business, and advise with him thereon. Good or evil must flow from Mr. Nicholas’s attempt, according to his establishment of facts. Present my best wishes to General Marshall, my love in which your Aunt unite to Nancy, and believe me to be always your affectionate uncle.
TO — McDOWELL.1
Mount Vernon, 2 September, 1798.
Your favor of the 13th ultimo, with the accounts, came duly to hand, and I thank you for the trouble you have had in paying and taking receipts therefor. The small balance of £1 3. 5½ may, if you please, be given to Mr. Custis.
It was my intention to have written fully to you by the return of this young gentleman to college, but the debilitated state into which I have been thrown by a fever, with which I was seized on the 18th, and could procure no remission of until the 25th past, renders writing equally irksome and improper.
Were the case otherwise, I should, I confess, be at a loss to point out any precise course of study for Mr. Custis. My views, with respect to him, have already been made known to you, and, therefore, it is not necessary to repeat them on this occasion. It is not merely the best course for him to pursue that requires a consideration, but such an one as he can be induced to pursue, and will contribute to his improvement and the object in view. In directing the first of these objects, a gentleman of your literary discernment and knowledge of the world, would be at no loss, without any suggestions of mine, if there was as good a disposition to receive, as there are talents to acquire knowledge; but as there seems to be in this youth an unconquerable indolence of temper, and a dereliction, in fact to all study, it must rest with you to lead him in the best manner, and by the easiest modes you can devise, to the study of such useful acquirements as may be serviceable to himself, and eventually beneficial to his country.
French, from having become in a manner the universal language, I wish him to be master of, but I do not find from inquiry, that he has made much progress in the study yet. Some of the branches of mathematics, particularly surveying, he ought, possessor as he is of large landed property, to be well acquainted with, as he may have frequent occasion for the exercise of that study.
I have already exceeded the limit I had prescribed to myself when I began this letter, but I will trespass yet a little more, while I earnestly entreat that you will examine him, as often as you can make it convenient, yourself; and admonish him seriously of his omissions and defects; and prevent, as much as it can be done, without too rigid a restraint, a devotion of his time to visitations of the families in Annapolis; which, when carried to excess, or beyond a certain point, can not but tend to divert his mind from study, and lead his thoughts to very different objects. Above all, let me request, if you should perceive any appearance of his attaching himself, by visit or otherwise, to any young lady of that place, that you would admonish him against any such step, on account of his youth and incapability of appreciating all the requisites for a connection which, in the common course of things, can terminate with the death of one of the parties only; and, if done without effect, to advise me thereof. If, in his reading, he was to make common-place notes, as is usual, copy them fair and show them to you, two good purposes would be answered by it. You would see with what judgment they were done, and it might tend much to improve his handwriting, which requires nothing but care and attention to render it good. At present, all of his writing that I have seen is a hurried scrawl, as if to get to the end speedily, was the sole object of writing.
With sincere esteem and regard, I am, sir, your obedient.
P. S. Knowledge of book-keeping is essential to all who are under the necessity of keeping accounts.1
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 3 September, 1798.
Your letter of the 25th ulto. has been duly received. The list of applicants from the Southern States, and two large bundles of letters—from these I presume—came at the same time, & in good order.
My last to you was dated the 20th of August; two days previous to which I had been seized with a fever, which I endeavored to shake off by pursuing my usual rides & occupations; but it continued to encrease upon me; when on the 21st at night Doctr Craik was called in, (who it seems chose to have assistance,) and on the 24th procured such a remission as to admit bark. Since which I have been in a convalescent state, but too much debilitated to be permitted to attend much to business. Which I mention with no other view, than to apprise you of my inability to enter so actively upon the duties you have suggested, as you probably have counted upon. I shall, however, do all that the situation of my health and circumstances will enable me to answer your expectations, if I should be finally charged in the manner you have suggested to the President.
The wide expance, you must permit me however to add, which forms the Southern District, will render it very difficult to obtain correct information of characters, will require more time than is supposed, and will, after all, be liable to much imposition, as confidence must be placed in others, who may be actuated more by local considerations than the general weal.
It is much to be wished, that Gen. Pinckney was arrived,1 and if the arrival should be north of this, that he might call here with your ideas, that I might with him arrange matters finally relatively to the States of South Carolina & Georgia, and provisionally as they respect North Carolina and Tennessee. Kentucky from its local situation is not only remote from, but in a manner is unconnected with, any other State; and, as you have taken no notice of the Northwestern territory, the presumption is that you contemplated neither Officers nor men from that Region.
Upon the principle, that the three great districts of the United States give each four of the augmented Regiments, I suppose it is meant that the several States composing these districts should furnish a quota proportioned to its population; and on this principle, without regarding fractions, I shall proceed, when ultimately instructed, unless you direct otherwise. But, for want of a general list of the Revolutionary Officers, to remind one of the Captains & Subalterns, who have distinguished themselves in the late War, many of the most deserving and meritorious may be overlooked. For I have heard already of several coming under this description, who have declared their willingness to serve, but wait to be called upon, adding that, as their names (& they presume characters) are registered in the War Office, they may be called if it shall be adjudged that their services are needful to be preferred. Upon this ground, if you suppose it probable that the selection of Regimental Officers for the Southern District will be entrusted to me to bring forward, I should be glad to be furnished with a general list of them. For the one you left with me, you will recollect, comprehended the field-officers only, and of those only such as continued to the end of the War.
You have said in your letter of the 25th ulto., that “the officers for the Cavalry are to be selected by the Lieutenant-General of the Army,” but do not signify whether they are to be taken from the Southern District wholly, or from the Union at large. On this head I shall require explicit directions.
I have no doubt, that a body of fine Cavalry might be raised in the Southern District, if the price of the horses is not too limited, and that they would stand the Southern operations better than the Northern horses; and I believe a handsome corps of officers might also be had; but it remains with you to direct where both or either are to be taken from. Talmadge, according to your account (in a former letter, although I could perceive no reason for it, unless the promotion of Genl. Dayton has raised his expectations,) looks higher than the Command of such a Corps.
When I am furnished by the Superintendent with a return of the Military stores now on hand and in train to be procured, I shall, agreeably to your desire, offer such observations thereon as may occur. In the mean time, I have no hesitation in declaring, that your Magazines cannot be too well furnished with all necessary articles of foreign dependence; the procuring of which, if the country should be invaded, will not only be rendered precarious, but they must come much higher. Those of our own growth or manufacture we have more at hand. And above all things direct the Keepers of your Powder Magazines to be attentive to the Powder, turning it often, and proving it frequently; otherwise there may appear to be a store, while there is none in fact, that is, none fit for use.
I have not been in a situation to examine the Printed Rules & Regulations respecting the Recruiting Service, transmitted in your last. I hope they are rigid, and pointed to good men; for it is much better to have a few good soldiers than a multitude of vagrants and indifferent ones, who, besides other imperfections, may desert their Colours in critical moments.
If any change should take place in settling the relative Rank of the Majr.-Generals, I shall hope & expect to be informed of it. With much truth, I am, dear Sir.
TO ALEXANDER SPOTSWOOD.
Mount Vernon, 14 September, 1798.
Your letter of the 11th, came to my hands yesterday.
Two causes, indeed three, prevented my answering the first after your return to New Port sooner, namely—debilitated health, occasioned by the fever wch. deprived me of 20 lbs of the weight I had when you and I were at Troy Mill Scales, and rendered writing irksome; the expectation of hearing from you again, relative to the Carpenter and farmer, to whom you informed me you had written; and the daily expectation of hearing from Rawlins, who had been informed if he could forward satisfactory recommendations of his qualifications to make a good overseer, that he would be employed by me in that character. These reasons must apologize for your not hearing from me sooner.
By the same mail, that brought me your letter of the 11th. Rawlins sent me satisfactory testimonials of his fitness for my purpose,—of course I stand engaged to him. But I have yet one place certain, perhaps two, requiring overseers: but not at the advanced wages your overseer asks, vizt., £50, &c.—These are my home house which requires an active, stirring, and spirited man; but not an ill-tempered or severe one. The other, in which I have been in some doubt, is what I call Doguerun Farm (where the Octagon Barn and treading floor is).—I could not well afford more than £40 and the usual allowance of provisions for the latter; & £35 is the most I ever gave for the former, and seldom more than thirty pounds. A single man wd. suit the home house best,—would be cheaper to me,—and he himself would live much better in as much as he would eat of the Provisions that went from my table, with the house-keeper and other hired people, about it:—on the other hand a married man would be preferred for Doguerun.
The reason why I doubted about employing an overseer at the latter farm is—that as Union & Doguerun Farms are under one overseer this year, & the latter conducted in a great measure by the foreman—I had some thoughts of entrusting it solely to him next year under the direction of the steward, but when I perceive, but too clearly, that negroes are growing more and more insolent and difficult to govern, I am more inclined to incur the expense of an overseer than to hazard the management and peace of the place to a negro:—Provided I can get a good overseer on moderate terms:—and why any of them should think of an increase of wages when the produce by which they are to be paid, is reduced to half price, and taxes to their employer (which they will not feel) are becoming very high—is to me inconceivable—for these causes I am lowering the wages of my Farms.
I mention these things to possess you of my ideas relative to these matters but will add notwithstanding that I will keep one of the two places before mentioned open until you hear from Richard Rhodes & learn his terms, if he will come to me at all.—I think he would have a better opportunity of Displaying his Knowledge & skill as a farmer at Doguerun (which is really a good Farm) than at the Mansion house, where there is nothing done by the hands that are kept there but jobbing and running from one thing and from one place to another, and for overlooking this farm I would stretch the wages to £45. tho’ I should hope to get him for £40. and if he declines coming altogether, or asks higher wages, I will in that case offer the same pay for the same place to your Overseer;—But if Rhodes accepts and your overseer will come to the Mansion House for £40. which is ten pounds higher than I had intended, I will allow him that sum, which I am persuaded would be better and more profitable to him (if a single man as I understood from you he was) than £50 at a separate Farm, where he would have to find himself many small though expensive articles, from which he would be exempt by eating at my second table with the house keeper.—
So much for your Overseer and Rhodes. I must add however that both must decide immediately—Yea or Nay—of which you will be so good as to inform me without delay as others are offering (said to be good) which I may also Miss, the Season getting late for valuable Overseers to be disengaged.
From the character you have received of Brookes (the carpenter) I have no hesitation in requesting that he may be engaged immediately, and I did not care how soon he would come up—for as he is spoken of as a complete Joiner, I have work enough for him in that way before the time of the present Overlooker of my Carpenters expires; which will be about the first of Novr.—I go in this case upon the supposition that Brookes is a single man.—If on the contrary he is a married one his wife cannot be brought here (altho’ he might come himself immediately) until my other Carpenter moves his family away & the house in which they live is given up.—If he is single he would not live in that but in one of the houses in my Yard—and eat as before mentioned with the House Keeper & others.
You will oblige me very much by having all these matters adjusted as soon as possible & by informing me of the result; that I may be placed upon a certainty, & conduct myself accordingly—as it will not be in my power to hold those who offer here in suspense more than a few days longer.—
You forgot to leave me the names & grades of those officers whose celebrity were Known in the Revolutionary War; & by expecting it I did not charge my memory with them, & have forgot the names of those you did mention.
I have had no return of my fever and am recovering my flesh fast nearly a pound & a half a day; at which rate if I should hold it for a twelve month I shall be an overmatch for Majr. Willis.
We were very glad to hear that you got safe home in the extreme hot weather you traveled from hence.
Mrs. Washington, Nelly & Washington Custis are all well and unite in best regards and wishes for your self, Mrs. Spotswood, & the family with, Dear Sir, &c.
P. S. To insure this letter getting to you without any delay at the Postoffice I have requested Mr. Parks to send it to you by express.
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 14 September, 1798.
My dear Sir,
Your letter of the 7th instant from Trenton is before me; and no plan is yet decided on, that I can discover, for recruiting the augmented force, or even for appointing the officers therefor.
It is for the Executive to account for this delay. Sufficient it is for me to regret, and I do regret it sorely; because that spirit and enthusiasm, which were inspired by the Dispatches from our Envoys, that resentment which was roused by the treatment of our Commissioners by the Directory, and the demands which were made on them as a preliminary to Negotiation by the latter, are evaporating fast; and Recruiting Service, which might have been successful, (of the best men,) a month ago may be found very difficult a month hence, (of the worst kind). The law passed before the middle of July, and was positive; and the middle of September has produced no fruit from it. This to me is inconceivable!
I must once more, too, my dear McHenry, request that your correspondence with me may be more full and communicative. You have a great deal of business, I shall acknowledge; but I scruple not to add, at the same time, that much of the important and interesting part of it will be to be transacted with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the U States, to whom there ought to be no concealment or want of information. Short letters, therefore, taking no notice of suggestions or queries, are unsatisfactory and distressing. Considering the light in which I think my sacrifices have placed me, I should expect more attention from the Secretary of War; but from Mr. McHenry, as a friend and coadjutor, I certainly shall look for it. Compare then my letter to you of the 3d instant, which I wrote in much pain, from the debilitated state into which the fever had thrown me, with your acknowledgment thereof, dated the 7th, and judge yourself whether I could derive any satisfaction therefrom on the score of business. Nor to this moment, although you know my solicitude respecting the General Staff of the Army, and my asking the question (in one of my letters) in direct terms, what truth there was in the report of Colo. North’s nomination to the office of Adjutant-General, has there been the least notice taken of it.
I will defer saying any thing on the President’s new arrangement of the three Major-Generals, until you shall have communicated the result of Colonel Hamilton’s answer to me.1
But in the name of the Army, what could have induced the nomination of Walter [Anthony Walton] White to the rank of Brigadier, after the State of New Jersey had been complimented with one Brigadier, and other States of more importance had received none? I formerly asked the same question with respect to Sevier to which no reply was made.
White’s name was placed in the list of Field officers (for New Jersey) merely as one that might be considered in that grade when the general organization came on, but I had no idea when you left this place, that General Officers would be appointed at the time they were, for the Provisional Army; and taking it for granted that it was a work for after consideration I bestowed no thought thereon. Of all the characters in the Revolutionary Army, I believe one more obnoxious to the Officers who composed it could not have been hit upon for a Genl. Officer than White, especially among those to the Southward, where he was best known & celebrated for nothing but frivolity—dress—empty show & something worse—in short for being a notorious L—r. This appointment will, I am told, exclude many valuable officers, who will not serve as his juniors. As to Sevier, the only exploit I ever heard of his performance, was the murder of Indians.
What measures, if any, are pursuing to provide small arms, I know not; nor of what sort or length they are intended to be; my opinion is that both musket & bayonet ought to be full as long as those, with whom we expect to contend, to give confidence to the soldiery. And it is a matter deserving consideration whether the latter ought not to resemble the dagger, more than those wch have been in common use with us.
If these, if the new invented artillery of G Britain at the cannon-works in Scotland, if the horse-artillery, in short, if any other articles of foreign manufacture are needed, not a moment is to be lost in the importation. Besides their coming much higher after hostilities shall have commenced, the obtaining of them at all will be attended with hazard and delay.
I have written you a free and friendly letter. It is intended, and I hope will be received, in that light from, my dear Sir, your sincere friend, &c.
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 16 September, 1798.
Your confidential letter dated Trenton the 10th instant, with its enclosures, has been duly received. The latter are returned. The contents of them have filled my mind with much disquietude and embarrassment: but it is impossible for me to make any move in consequence at this time, from the want of official grounds, without betraying your confidential communication.
I can perceive pretty clearly, however, that the matter is, or very soon will be, brought to the alternative of submitting to the President’s forgetfulness of what I considered a compact or condition of acceptance of the appointment, with which he was pleased to honor me, or to return him my commission. And as that compact was ultimately and at the time declared to him through you, in your letter written from this place, and the strong part of it inserted after it was first drawn, at my request, to avoid misconception, I conceive I have a right, and accordingly do ask, to be furnished with a copy of it.
You will recollect too, that my acceptance being conditional, I requested you to take the Commission back, that it might be restored or annulled according to the President’s determination to accept or reject the terms on which I had offered to serve; and that, but for your assuring me it would make no difference whether I retained or returned it, and conceiving the latter might be considered an evidence of distrust, it would have been done. Subsequent events evince, that it would have been a measure of utility; for, though the case in principle is the same, yet such a memento of the fact could not so easily have been forgotten or got over.
After the declaration in the President’s letter to you of August 29th, (which is also accompanied with other sentiments of an alarming nature,) and his avowed readiness to take the responsibility of the measure upon himself, it is not probable that there will be any departure from the resolution he has adopted; but I should be glad, notwithstanding, to know the result of the Representation made by the Secretaries, as soon as it comes to hand; and, if there is no impropriety in the request, to be gratified with a sight of the memorial also. I am, &c.
P. S. If you see no impropriety in the measure, and do not object to it, it would be satisfactory to me to receive a copy of the powers, or instructions, from the President under which you acted when here.
TO JOHN ADAMS, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
Mount Vernon, 25 September, 1798.
With all the respect, which is due to your public station, and with the regard I entertain for your private character, the following representation is presented to your consideration. If, in the course of it any expression should escape me, which may appear to be incompatible with either, let the purity of my intentions, the candor of my declarations, and a due respect for my own character, be received as an apology.
The subject, on which I am about to address you, is not less delicate in its nature, than it is interesting to my feelings. It is the change, which you have directed to be made in the relative rank of the Major-Generals, which I had the honor of presenting to you by the Secretary of War; the appointment of an adjutant-General after the first nomination was rejected, and the prepared state you are in to appoint a third, if the second should decline, without the least intimation of the matter to me.
It would have been unavailing after the nomination and appointment of me to the chief command of the armies of the United States, (without any previous consultation of my sentiments,) to observe to you the delicate situation in which I was placed by that act. It was still less expedient to have dwelt more than I did on my sorrow, at being drawn from my retirement, where I had fondly hoped to have spent the few remaining years, which might be dispensed to me, if not in profound tranquillity, at least without public responsibility. But if you had been pleased, previously to the nomination, to have inquired into the train of my thoughts upon the occasion, I would have told you with the frankness and candor, which I hope will ever mark my character, on what terms I would have consented to the nomination, and you would then have been able to decide whether they were admissible or not.
This opportunity was not afforded before I was brought to public view. To declare them afterwards was all I could do, and this I did in explicit language to the Secretary of War, when he honored me with your letter of the 7th of July, showed me his powers, and presented the commission. They were, that the General Officers and General Staff of the army should not be appointed without my concurrence. I extended my stipulations no further, but offered to give every information, and render every service in my power, in selecting good officers for the Regiments.
It would be tedious to go into all the details, which led to this determination, but before I conclude my letter, I shall take the liberty of troubling you with some of them. Previously to the doing of which, however, let me declare, and I do declare in the most unequivocal manner, that I had nothing in view in making this stipulation, than to insure the most eligible characters for these highly responsible offices, conceiving that my opportunities, both in the civil and military administration of the affairs of this country, had enabled me to form as correct an opinion of them as any other could do.
Neither the Secretary of War nor myself entertained any doubt, from your letters to me and Instructions to him, that this was the meaning and object of his mission. Unwilling, however, to let a matter of such serious importance to myself remain upon uncertain ground, I requested that gentleman to declare this in his official letter to you, supposing, as was the case, that the one I should have the honor of writing to you might be laid before the public, and that to encumber it with stipulations of that sort would be improper. Nay more, as the acceptance was conditional, and you might or might not be disposed to accede to the terms, I requested him to take the commission back, to be annulled or restored according to your conception of the propriety or impropriety of them. His remark upon this occasion was, that it was unnecessary, inasmuch as, if you did not incline to accept my services upon the condition they were offered, you would be under the necessity of declaring it, whilst, on the other hand, silence must be construed into acquiescence. This consideration, and believing that the latter mode would be most respectful, as the other might imply distrust of your intentions, arrested that measure.
This, Sir, is a true, candid, and impartial statement of facts. It was the ground on which I accepted and retained the Commission, and was the authority on which I proceeded to the arrangement, that was presented to you by the Secretary of War.
Having no idea, that the General officers for the Provisional army would be nominated at the time they were, I had not even contemplated characters for those appointments.
I will now respectfully ask, in what manner these stipulations on my part have been complied with?
In the arrangement made by me with the Secretary of War, the three Major-Generals stood, Hamilton, Pinckney, Knox; and in this order I expected their commissions would be dated. This, I conceive, must have been the understanding of the Senate, and certainly was the expectation of all those with whom I have conversed. But you have been pleased to order the last to be first, and the first to be last. Of four Brigadiers for the Provisional army, one, whom I never heard of as a military character, has been nominated and appointed, and another is so well known to all those, who served with him in the Revolution, as (for the appointment) to have given the greatest disgust, and will be the means of preventing many valuable officers of that army from coming forward. One adjutant-General has been, and another is ready to be appointed, in case of the non-acceptance of Mr. North, not only without any consultation with me, but without the least intimation of the intention; although in the letter I had the honor to write you on the 4th of July, in acknowledgment of your favor of the 22d of June preceding, and still more strongly in one of the same date to the Secretary of War, which, (while here,) his clerk was I know directed to lay before you, I endeavored to show you in a strong point of view how important it was, that this officer, (besides his other qualifications,) should be agreeable to the Commander-in-Chief, and possess his entire confidence.
To increase the Powers of the Commander-in-Chief, or to lessen those of the President of the United States, I pray you to be persuaded was most foreign from my heart. To secure able coadjutors, in the arduous task I was about to enter upon, was my sole aim. This the public good demanded, and this must have been equally the wish of us both. But to accomplish it required an intimate knowledge of the component parts of the characters among us in the higher grades of the late army. And I hope, (without incurring the charge of presumption,) I may add that the opportunities I have had to judge of these are second to none. It was too interesting to me, who had staked every thing which was dear and valuable upon the issue, to trust more to chance than could be avoided. It could not be supposed, that I was insensible to the risk I was about to run, knowing that the chances of losing were at least equal to those of increasing the reputation, which the partiality of the world had been pleased to bestow on me. No one then acquainted with these circumstances, the sacrifices I was about to make, and the impartiality of my conduct in the various walks of life, could suppose that I had any other object in view, than to obtain the best aids the country afforded, and my judgment could dictate.
If an army had been in actual existence, and you had been pleased to offer the command of it to me, my course would have been plain. I should have examined the constitution of it, looked into the organization, and inquired into the character of its officers, &c. As the army was to be raised, and the officers to be appointed, could it be expected, (as I was no candidate for the office,) that I should be less cautious, or less attentive to secure these advantages?
It was not difficult for me to perceive, that, if we entered into a serious contest with France, the character of the war would differ materially from the last we were engaged in. In the latter, time, caution, and worrying the enemy until we could be better provided with arms and other means, and had better disciplined troops to carry it on, was the plan for us. But if we should be engaged with the former, they ought to be attacked at every step, and if possible not suffered to make an establishment in the country, acquiring thereby strength from the disaffected and the slaves, whom I have no doubt they will arm, and for that purpose will commence their operations South of the Potomac.
Taking all these circumstances into view, you will not be surprised at my solicitude to intrench myself as I did; nor is it to be supposed, that I made the arrangement of the three Major-Generals without an eye to possible consequences. I wished for time, it is true, to have effected it, hoping that an amicable adjustment might have taken place; and offered at a very short summons, (inconvenient as it would have been,) to proceed to Philadelphia for that purpose; but as no subsequent notice was taken thereof, I presumed there were operative reasons against the measure, and did not repeat it.
It is proper too I should add, that, from the information which I received from various quarters, and through different channels, I had no doubt in my mind, that the current sentiment among the members of Congress, and particularly among those from New England, was in favor of Colonel Hamilton’s being second in command, and this impression has been since confirmed in the most unequivocal manner by some respectable members of that body, whom I have myself seen and conversed with on the subject.
But if no regard was intended to be had to the order of my arrangement, why was it not altered before it was submitted to the Senate? This would have placed matters upon simple ground. It would then have been understood as it is at present, namely, that the gentlemen would rank in the order they are named; but the change will contravene this, and excite much conversation and unpleasant consequences.
I cannot lay my hand readily upon the resolves of the old Congress, relative to the settlement of Rank between officers of the same grade, who had been in service and were disbanded, while a part of the army remained in existence; but if I have a tolerable recollection of the matter, they are totally irrelevant to the present case. Those resolves passed, if I am not mistaken, at a time when the proportion of officers to men was so unequal as to require a reduction of the former, and when the army was about to undergo a reduction in part, and the officers might be called upon again. But will a case of this sort apply to the officers of an army, which has ceased to exist more than fourteen years? I give it frankly as my opinion, (if I have not entirely forgotten the principle on which the resolves took place,) that they will not; and I as frankly declare, that the only motive I had for examining a list of the officers of that army was to be reminded of names.
If the Rule contended for were to obtain, what would be the consequences, and where would the evil end? In all probability, resort would be had to the field-officers of the Revolutionary army to fill similar grades in the augmented and Provisional corps, which are to be raised. What then is to be done with General Dayton, who never ranked higher than captain in it? The principle will apply with equal force in that case, as in the case of Hamilton and Knox. The injury, (if it is one,) of putting a junr. over the head of a senr. officer of the last war, is not ameliorated by the nomination or appointments of them on different days. It is the act itself, not the manner of doing it, that affects.
I have dwelt longer on this point than perhaps was necessary, in order to show, that in my opinion former rank in the Revolutionary army ought to have no influence in the present case, farther than may be derived from superior experience, brilliant exploits, or general celebrity of character; and that, as the armies about to be raised are commencing de novo, the President has the right to make officers of citizens or soldiers at his pleasure, and to arrange them in any manner he shall deem most conducive to the public weal.
It is an invidious task at all times to draw comparisons, and I shall avoid it as much as possible; but I have no hesitation in declaring, that, if the public is to be deprived of the services of Colo. Hamilton in the military line, that the post he was destined to fill will not be easily supplied; and that this is the sentiment of the public, I think I can venture to pronounce. Although Colonel Hamilton has never acted in the character of a General Officer, yet his opportunities, as the principal and most confidential aid of the commander-in-chief, afforded him the means of viewing every thing on a larger scale than those, whose attentions were confined to Divisions or Brigades, who knew nothing of the correspondences of the commander-in-Chief, or of the various orders to, or transactions with, the General Staff of the Army. These advantages, and his having served with usefulness in the Old Congress, in the General convention, and having filled one of the most important departments of government with acknowledged abilities and integrity, have placed him on high ground, and made him a conspicuous character in the United States, and even in Europe.
To these, as a matter of no small consideration, may be added, that, as a lucrative practice in the line of his profession is his most certain dependence, the inducement to relinquish it must in some degree be commensurate. By some he is considered as an ambitious man, and therefore a dangerous one. That he is ambitious, I shall readily grant, but it is of that laudable kind, which prompts a man to excel in whatever he takes in hand. He is enterprising, quick in his perceptions, and his judgment intuitively great; qualities essential to a military character, and therefore I repeat, that his loss will be irreparable.
With respect to General Knox, I can say with truth, there is no man in the United States with whom I have been in habits of greater intimacy, no one whom I have loved more sincerely, nor any for whom I have had a greater friendship. But esteem, love, and friendship can have no influence on my mind, when I conceive that the subjugation of our government and independence are the objects aimed at by the enemies of our Peace, and when possibly our all is at stake.
In the first moments of leisure, after the Secretary of War left this place, I wrote a friendly letter to General Knox, stating my firm belief, that, if the French should invade this country with a view to the conquest or the division of it, their operations would commence at the southward, and endeavored to show him, in that case, how all-important it was to engage General Pinckney, his numerous family, friends, and influential acquaintance heartily in the cause; sending him at the same time a copy of the arrangement, which I supposed to be final; and, in a subsequent letter, I gave him my opinion fully with respect to the relative situation of himself and Colonel Hamilton, not expecting, I confess, the difficulties which have occurred.
I will say but little relative to the appointment of the Brigadiers before alluded to; but I must not conceal, that, after what has passed, and my understanding of the compact, that my feelings were not a little wounded by the appointment of any, much more such characters, without my knowledge.
In giving these details I have far exceeded the limits of a letter, but I hope to be excused for the prolixity of it. My object has been to give you a clear and distinct view of my understanding of the terms, on which I received the commission with which you were pleased to honor me.
Lengthy as this letter is, there is another subject not less interesting to the commander-in-chief of the armies, (be he whom he may,) than it is important to the United States, which I beg leave to bring respectfully to your view. We are now near the end of September, and not a man recruited, nor a Battalion officer appointed, that has come to my knowledge. The consequence is, that the spirit and enthusiasm, which prevailed a month or two ago, and would have produced the best men, in a short time, are evaporating fast, and a month or two hence may induce but few, and those perhaps of the worst sort, to enlist. Instead, therefore, of having the augmented force in a state of preparation, and under a course of discipline, it is now to be raised, and possibly may not be in existence when the enemy is in the field. We shall have to meet veteran troops inured to conquest, with militia or raw recruits. The consequence is not difficult to conceive or foretell.
I have addressed you, Sir, with openness and candor, and I hope with respect, requesting to be informed, whether your determination to reverse the order of the three Major-Generals is final, and whether you mean to appoint another Adjutant-General without my concurrence. With the greatest respect and consideration I have the honor to be, Sir, &c.1
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 30 September, 1798.
I have lately received information, which, in my opinion, merits attention. It is, that the brawlers against governmental measures in some of the most discontented parts of this State have all of a sudden become silent; and, it is added, are very desirous of obtaining commissions in the army about to be raised.
This information did not fail to leave an impression upon my mind at the time I received it; but it has acquired strength from a publication I have lately seen in one of the Maryland gazettes, (between the author of which and my informant there could have been no interchange of sentiments to the same effect). The motives ascribed to them are, that in such a situation they would endeavor to divide and contaminate the army by artful and seditious discourses, and perhaps at a critical moment bring on confusion. What weight to give to these conjectures you can judge as well as I. But, as there will be characters enough of an opposite description, who are ready to receive appointments, circumspection is necessary. For my opinion is of the first that you could as soon scrub the blackamore white as to change the principle of a profest Democrat, and that he will leave nothing unattempted to overturn the Government of this Country. Finding the resentment of the people at the conduct of France too strong to be resisted, they have in appearance adopted their sentiments, and pretend that, notwithstanding the misconduct of government have brought it upon us, yet, if an invasion should take place, it will be found that they will be among the first to defend it. This is their story at all Elections and Election meetings, and told in many instances with effect.
Whether there be little, much, or nothing in the information, I shall not take upon me to decide; but it appeared to me to be of sufficient moment to apprize you thereof. With esteem & regard, I am.
TO JAMES McHENRY.
Mount Vernon, 10 October, 1798.
[private and quite confidential.]
My dear Sir,
You will be at no loss to perceive, from my private letter to you of the 16th ulto., extracts from which you sent to the President of the United States; and from my representation to him, dated the 25th following, the rough draught of which was enclosed in my last, what my determination is, if he perseveres in his Resolution to change the order of the Major Generals, and to disregard the conditions on which I accepted the Commission of Lieut. Genl. of the Armies, &c.—
Let me then request you, with the frankness and candor of a friend, to give me your opinion fully and freely of the measure;—to ask if you think I could, with propriety and a due respect for my own character retain the Commission under such violations of the terms on which I accepted it;—and what you conceive will be the consequences of my resignation thereof.
If Col. Pickering, and the Gentlemen who act with you, are intimately acquainted with all the circumstances of the case, it would be satisfactory to me, to know their opinions also, with respect to my eventual resignation; but not as a matter required by me, but as questions propounded by yourself, entirely and absolutely.
Be so good as to let me know the ground on which you and Colo. Pickering are certain the President is mistaken in his conjectures that the New England States would be disgusted if Hamilton preceeds Knox in Rank; and add, if you please whether Pickering’s predelection in favor of the former proceeds from pure conviction of the utility of the measure, or from some personal dislike to the latter. I have some suspicion that he is not a friend to Knox, but cannot suppose that this would have any influence in the case.
I should like to have seen a copy of Mr. Wolcott’s letter to the President, but as it was not sent, I presume there was some reason for withholding, and do not repeat the request.1
I wish to hear from you on the subject of this letter as soon as possible.—Burn it, as soon as it is perused, as I will do your answer, that neither the one, nor the other may appear hereafter. With much truth I am.
TO TIMOTHY PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
Mount Vernon, 15 October, 1798.
The information contained in your letter of the 3d instant was highly grateful to me. Such communications are not only satisfactory to me, but are really useful; for, while I hold myself in readiness to obey the call of my country, it is expedient that I should have more authentic information, than News Paper inconsistencies, of the approaching or receding storm, that I may regulate my private concerns accordingly. So far then as you can give this with propriety, would be received with thankfulness, and if under the seal of confidence, will be locked up in my own breast.
It is pleasing to hear, that we had so few ships in France when the Directory thereof were pleased to lay an Embargo thereon. I wish, on many accounts, that General Pinckney was safely landed in his own country, as I heard Mr. Gerry is come after his terrible fright. I hope, so soon as he is relieved from the Panic with which he was struck, and which must have continued whilst he remained on the watery element, he will come forward in stronger language than his last letter to Mr. Talleyrand contains and with such explanations, as his own character requires, and His Country has a right to demand.
We have nothing new in this quarter. An excessive drought, which still prevails, has been hurtful to our crops, and presses sorely upon the winter grain and grass seeds, which have been sown this autumn.
Maryland, instead of acquiring strength in her Federal representation by the last Election, has lost ground. What will be the result of the Elections in this State, in March next, is more I believe than any one can foretell at present. No stone is left unturned, that can affect the Federal Interest, by the Democrats. I am, dear Sir, &c.
TO TIMOTHY PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
Mount Vernon, 18 October, 1798.
The contents of your letter of the 13th instant, which I received last night, gave me much pleasure; and it has been increased since by the annunciation (in the gazettes) of General Pinckney’s safe arrival at New York. I hope he will not play the second part of the difficulty created by General Knox.
The extracts of letters from our consuls, and other characters in France to you, are satisfactory and useful to me.
My opinion always has been, (however necessary to be in a state of preparation,) that no formidable invasion is to be apprehended from France, while Great Britain and that country are at War; not from any favorable disposition the latter has towards us, but from actual inability to transport Troops and the Munitions of War, while their ports are blockaded. That they would willingly, and perhaps necessarily, employ their forces in such an enterprise in case of Peace I have little doubt, unless adverse fortune in their foreign relations,—a Revolution at home,—or a wonderful change of sentiment in the governing powers of their country, should take place.
If any thing in the conduct of their agents could excite astonishment, it would be Talleyrand’s effrontery, duplicity, and supposed Diplomatic skill, in his management of matters with Mr. Gerry; but, as his object to those, who are not determined to be blind, may be read as they run, it is unnecessary to comment upon it. And with respect to Mr. Gerry, I observed in my last, that his own character and public satisfaction require better evidence, than his letter to the Minister of Foreign Relations, to prove the propriety of his conduct during his Envoyship.
I fear, from the paragraph which you have extracted from a Paris Paper of the 23d of August, relative to Madame de Lafayette, that the General and his son are on their Passage to this Country. I had a letter from him dated late in May, wherein he says, that her health was too much impaired to attempt a sea voyage at that time, and therefore that she and the female part of his family would go to France, while he and son would visit the United States, whither he expected to arrive in the month of September. On Public and his own private account, I hope that would not happen while matters were in the train they are at present; but, as one part of the information appears to have been accomplished, the other may be expected.
I have read your letter of the 29th ult. to P. Johnston, on the subject of the Prince Edward Address and with pleasure.
It ought to flash conviction of the impropriety of that address, on all minds that are open to it—but it is not easier to change the principles of the leaders of such measures, than it would be to wash a blackamoor white. Truth and information is not their object. To blind, and irritate the People against Government (to effect a change in it) is their sole aim.
With much truth and sincere regard, I am, Sir, &c.
TO HENRY KNOX.
Mount Vernon, 21 October, 1798.
My dear Sir,
Several causes have occurred to retard the acknowledgment of the receipt of your favor of the 26th of August. At the time it came to hand, I was much engaged in matters that could not be well postponed; and before I got through them, I was seized with a fever which was unremittingly severe for several days, and left me in so debilitated a state as to render writing, and business generally (when it could be avoided) not only irksome, but improper, and was forbidden by my Physicians.
During this state of convalescence, letters which required prompt attention were pouring in upon me.—This state of things—not knowing what the President’s final decision would be, and not perceiving that I could say more to you on the subject of relative rank, than I had done in former letters, unless, to dilate on the several points which had before been touched, (and this appeared to me unnecessary, as your own ideas would anticipate all I could say), I delayed from day to day to do what I am now in the act of doing, that is, writing to you.
I can again, my dear Sir, with much truth and sincerity repeat to you the declaration made on a former occasion, namely, that, if an amicable arrangement of precedence could have been settled between Generals Hamilton, Pinckney, and yourself, previous to the nomination, it wd. have been perfectly satisfactory to me; but, driven as I was to make it myself, at the time and in the manner it was transmitted, I was governed by the best views and best evidence I could obtain, of the public sentiment relative thereto. The Senate acted upon it under an impression, that it was to remain so, and in that light the matter is understood by the public; and it would be uncandid not to add, that I have found no cause since to believe I mistook that sentiment. Let me add further, that, as an army was to be raised de novo, fourteen years after the Revolutionary Troops had ceased to exist, I do not see that any Resolution of the ancient Congress can apply at this day to the officers of that army. If it does, and the matter is viewed by others as it is by you, will any field-officer of that army serve under General Dayton? Would it not deprive the President of the advantage of selection and arrangement? And what difficulties and perplexities would not follow, if this idea and conduct should prevail generally? Accompanied with the opinion which you seem to have imbibed of incidental Rank, Few knowing and deserving officers of this description would feel very easy under such a decision, or be content with a feather, if they conceived that rank meant nothing, when inserted in their commissions.
On what ground did the Baron de Steuben command a separate corps in the State of Virginia in the year 1781, and Colo. Hamilton a select one at the siege of York, if Incidental Rank does not give command according to circumstances and the discretion of the Commanding General?
But I am running into details, which I did not intend. It would (if you could reconcile it to your own feelings,) give me sincere pleasure to see you in the augmented corps, a major-genl.
We shall have either, no war, or a severe contest, with France; in either case, if you will allow me to express my opinion, this is the most eligible time for you to come forward. In the first case, to assist with your counsel and aid in making judicious provisions and arrangements to avert it; in the other case, to share in the glory of defending your Country, and, by making all secondary considerations yield to that great and primary object, display a mind superior to embarrassing punctilios at so critical a moment as the present.
After having expressed these sentiments, with the frankness of undisguised friendship, it is hardly necessary to add, that, if you should finally decline the appointment of Majr-General, there is none to whom I would give a more decided preference as an Aid-de-Camp, the offer of which is highly flattering, honorable, and grateful to my feelings, and for which I entertain a high sense. But, my dear Genl. Knox, (and here again I speak to you in the language of candor and friendship,) examine well your mind on this subject. Do not unite yourself to the suit of a man, whom you may consider as the primary cause of what you call a degradation, with unpleasant sensations. This, while it was gnawing upon you, would (if I should come to the knowledge of it) make me unhappy; as my first wish would be, that my military family and the whole army should consider themselves as a band of brothers, willing and ready to die for each other. I shall add no more than assurances of the sincere friendship and affection, with which I am, dear Sir, &c.1
TO JAMES McHENRY.
Mount Vernon, 21 October, 1798.
My dear Sir,
Enclosed is a copy of the President’s letter to me, which I request may be with this letter, burnt as soon as they are read, & no more said respecting the contents than might be proper for him to hear repeated again; Otherwise, a knowledge that the contents of my letters to and from him are in possession of others, may induce him to believe, in good earnest, that intrigues are carrying on, in which I am an actor—than which, nothing is more foreign from my heart.
I return the press copies which were enclosed to me. But in future, whenever you require my opinion on any points, let them be stated in your letter, or on a paper to remain in my possession, without wch. my acts & proceedings, will appear incomplete & mysterious.
Do you mean to furnish me with a copy of the letter you wrote to the President from hence & of his Instructions to you, or not? Long, long since, I informed you that it would be extremely useful to me (if I was to have any hand in selecting the Officers for the four Regiments & Cavalry proposed to be raised in the Southern division of the Union) to be furnished with a list of the Captains & Subalterns therein, who served in the Revolutionary Army; but none has been sent. This with the date of their Commissions might be the means of coming at many valuable officers, and preventing many disputes hereafter.
Has Mr. Wolcott received any answer to his letter to the President? and to what effect. You know that I am always, &c.
P. S. It is some time since Nelly Custis Enclosed you a Post note furnished by me, to discharge your advance for the Colours—Has it ever been received?
TO JAMES McHENRY, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 21st Octr., 1798.
Your letter of the 16th instant came by the last mail.1 The enclosures are well calculated to effect their objects. But the explicit declaration contained in the one to General Knox, added to his knowledge of my sentiments on the subject of relative Rank, leaves little hope in my mind, that he will obey your summons, and render his aid in the manner required of him.
I hope no difficulty will occur with General Pinckney; and, if he cannot be prevailed on to remain at the Seat of Government until the 10th of November, (the ulterior day allowed for the assembling of the Major-Generals,) that you will avail yourself of all his information relatively to the characters best qualified to officer the Corps allotted to the States of South Carolina & Georgia; and as far as his knowledge extends to those of No. Carolina and Tennessee also.
I have said in the beginning of this letter, that the enclosures were well calculated to effect their objects, but I must except that part of them, which relates to the officering of the New Corps in the Southern and Western States, as greatly inferior to the one I suggested in my last letter to you, dated the 15th instant; first, because it involves more delay; and, 2dly because the chance of obtaining good officers is not equal.
If the President of the United States, or the Secretary of War, had a personal and intimate knowledge of the characters of the applicants, the mode suggested by me would be indelicate & improper; but at such a distance, & in cases where information must govern, from whom, (as I observed in my former letter,) can it be so much relied on, as from those whose interest, honor, and reputation are pledged for its accuracy?
The applications are made chiefly through members of Congress. These, oftentimes to get rid of them, oftener still perhaps for local & electioneering purposes, and to please & gratify their party, more than from any real merit in the applicant, are handed in, backed by a solicitude for success in order to strengthen their interest. Possibly no injustice might be done, if I were to proceed a step further, and give it as an opinion, that most of the candidates brought forward by the opposition members possess sentiments similar to their own, and might poison the army by disseminating them, if they were appointed. If, however, the plan suggested by you is to be adopted, indeed in any case, you will no doubt see the propriety of obtaining all the information you can from Majr.-General Pinckney; and, if he accepts his appointment, and cannot be prevailed on to remain with you until the other Majr.-Generals assemble, of requesting him to call on Brigr.-General Davie on his route to Charleston, and, after a full & free conversation with him on fit characters to officer the quota of Troops from the States of No. Carolina (and Tennessee, if he can aid in it,) to inform you of the result without delay.1
I hardly think it will be in my power to attend at Trenton or Philadelphia at the time alloted to the Majr.-Generals; 1st, because I am yet in a convalescent state, (although perfectly recovered of the fever,) so far at least as to avoid exposure and consequent colds; 2dly, my Secretary, (Mr. Lear,) has had a severe fever, and is now very low, and several others of my family are much indisposed; and, 3dly and principally, because I see no definite ground to proceed upon, if I should go, from anything that has hitherto appeared. Nor is it probable you will have received the President’s instructions, and Genr. Knox’s answer, in time to serve me with a notice of the results by the 10th of November; I mean, for me to get there, on or about that day.
If General Pinckney could be prevailed on to remain with you, & there was a moral certainty of meeting Generals Hamilton and Knox, I would, maugre the inconveniences and hazard I might run, attempt to join them, for the valuable purpose of projecting a plan in concert with you and them, which might be ineffectually accomplished at a partial meeting. I shall therefore stand prepared, as well as the situation of things will admit, and wait your full communications on these several points, and govern myself accordingly.
TO G. W. SNYDER.1
Mount Vernon, 24 October, 1798.
I have your favor of the 17th instant before me, and my only motive to trouble you with the receipt of this letter is, to explain and correct a mistake, which I perceive the hurry in which I am obliged often to write letters have led you into.
It was not my intention to doubt, that the doctrines of the Illuminati and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more fully satisfied of this fact than I am.
The idea that I meant to convey was, that I did not believe that the lodges of freemasons in this country had, as societies, endeavored to propagate the diabolical tenets of the former, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of separation). That individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects, and actually had a separation of the people from their government in view, is too evident to be questioned.
My occupations are such, that little leisure is allowed me to read newspapers or books of any kind. The reading of letters and preparing answers absorb much of my time. With respect, I remain, Sir, &c.
TO TIMOTHY PICKERING, SECRETARY OF WAR.
Mount Vernon, 26 October, 1798.
I have been duly favored with your letters of the 15th & 20th Instant, and received great satisfaction from the communications in both.
That General Pinckney not only accepts his appointment in the Army of the United States, but accompanies the acceptance with declarations so open and candid, as those made to General Hamilton, affords me sincere pleasure. It augers well of the aid that may be expected from his services.
I should suppose that a correspondence between the Department of State, and the Governors of Individual States, would be attended with salutary consequences,—whilst no evil that I can perceive, would flow from it. By such communications as would be proper to make to them, the well disposed part would be possessed of useful information, and those of a contrary description would in many cases be bereft of a plea which they often make—the want of it.—To enable you to do this, and to exe[cute] with ease the other important duties of your office you ought, certainly, to be allowed all the aid that is necessary.
If Mr. Gerry has it in his power to dispel the cloud that hovers over him, I wish on account of this country;—for his own sake;—and as the only attonement he can make to his Colleagues for his separate transactions, and secret conduct with the French Minister, that he would come forward with an open and manly representation of all the circumstances that occurred, and governed in that business.—Though nothing can excuse his secret negociations—a measure of this sort is the only one I can see, that can irradicate unfavorable suspicions.—I fear however, that vanity, which may have led him into the mistake,—and consciousness of being duped by the Diplomatic skill of our good and magnanimous Allies are too powerful for a weak mind to overcome. With very great esteem and regard I am, &c.
TO ALEXANDER SPOTSWOOD.
Philadelphia, 22 November, 1798.
Your letter of the 13th enclosing a publication under the signature of Gracchus, on the alien and sedition laws, found me at this place deeply engaged in business.
You ask my opinion of these laws, professing to place confidence in my judgment. For the compliment of which I thank you. But to give opinions unsupported by reasons might appear dogmatical, especially as you have declared that Gracchus has produced “thorough conviction in your mind of the unconstitutionality and inexpediency of the acts above mentioned.” To go into an explanation on these points I have neither leisure nor inclination, because it would occupy more time than I have to spare.
But I will take the liberty of advising such as are not “thoroughly convinced,” and whose minds are yet open to conviction, to read the pieces and hear the arguments, which have been adduced in favor of as well as those against, the constitutionality and expediency of those laws, before they decide; and consider to what lengths a certain description of men in our country have already driven, and seem resolved further to drive matters, and then ask themselves if it is not time and expedient, to resort to protecting laws against aliens (for citizens you certainly know are not affected by that law), who acknowledge no allegiance to this country, and in many instances are sent among us (as there is the best circumstantial evidence to prove) for the express purpose of poisoning the minds of our people, and to sow dissensions among them, in order to alienate their affections from the government of their choice, thereby endeavoring to dissolve the Union, and of course the fair and happy prospects, which were unfolding to our view from the revolution.
But, as I have observed before, I have no time to enter the field of politics; and therefore shall only add my best respects to the good family at New Port, and the assurances of being, dear Sir, your very humble servant.
TO GENERAL LAFAYETTE.
Mount Vernon, 25 December, 1798.
My dear Sir,
* * * * * *
To give you a complete view of the politics and situation of things in this country would far exceed the limits of a letter, and to trace effects to their causes would be a work of time. But the sum of them may be given in a few words, and amounts to this. That a party exists in the United States, formed by a combination of causes, which oppose the government in all its measures, and are determined (as all their conduct evinces) by clogging its wheels indirectly to change the nature of it, and to subvert the constitution. To effect this, no means which have a tendency to accomplish their purposes are left unessayed. The friends of government, who are anxious to maintain its neutrality, and to preserve the country in peace, and adopt measures to secure these are charged by them as being monarchists, aristocrats, and infractors of the constitution, which, according to their interpretation of it, would be a mere cipher. While they arrogated to themselves (until the eyes of the people began to discover how outrageously they had been treated in their commercial concerns by the Directory of France, and that that was a ground on which they could no longer tread) the sole merit of being the friends of France, when in fact they had no more regard for that nation than for the Grand Turk, further than their own views were promoted by it; denouncing those who differed in opinion, (whose principles are purely American, and whose sole view was to observe a strict neutrality) with acting under British influence, and being directed by her counsels, now with being her pensioners.
This is but a short sketch of what requires much time to illustrate; and is given with no other view, than to show you what would be your situation here at this crisis under such circumstances as it unfolds.
You have expressed a wish, worthy of the benevolence of your heart, that I would exert all my endeavors to avert the calamitous effects of a rupture between our countries. Believe me, my dear friend, that no man can deprecate an event of this sort with more horror than I should, and that no one, during the whole of my administration, labored more incessantly, and with more sincerity and zeal, than I did, to avoid this, and to render every justice, nay favor, to France, consistent with the neutrality, which had been proclaimed, sanctioned by Congress, approved by the State legislatures, and the people at large in their town and country meetings. But neutrality was not the point at which France was aiming; for, whilst it was crying Peace, Peace, and pretending that they did not wish us to be embroiled in their quarrel with Great Britain, they were pursuing measures in this country so repugnant to its sovereignty, and so incompatible with every principle of neutrality, as must inevitably have produced a war with the latter. And when they found, that the government here was resolved to adhere steadily to its plan of neutrality, their next step was to destroy the confidence of the people in and to separate them from it; for which purpose their diplomatic agents were specially instructed, and in the attempt were aided by inimical characters among ourselves, not, as I observed before, because they loved France more than any other nation, but because it was an instrument to facilitate the destruction of their own government.
Hence proceeded those charges, which I have already enumerated, against the friends to peace and order. No doubt remains on this side of the water, that to the representations of, and encouragement given by, these people is to be ascribed, in a great measure, the infractions of our treaty with France; her violation of the laws of nations, disregard of justice, and even of sound policy. But herein they have not only deceived France, but were deceived themselves, as the event has proved; for, no sooner did the yeomanry of this country come to a right understanding of the nature of the dispute, than they rose as one man with a tender of their services, their lives, and their fortunes to support the government of their choice, and to defend their country. This has produced a declaration from them (how sincere let others judge), that, if the French should attempt to invade this country, they themselves would be amongst the foremost to repel the attack.
You add in another place, that the Executive Directory are disposed to accommodation of all differences. If they are sincere in this declaration, let them evidence it by actions; for words unaccompanied therewith will not be much regarded now. I would pledge myself, that the government and people of the United States will meet them heart and hand at fair negotiation; having no wish more ardent, than to live in peace with all the world, provided they are suffered to remain undisturbed in their just rights. Of this, their patience, forbearance, and repeated solicitations under accumulated injuries and insults, are incontestable proofs; but it is not to be inferred from hence, that they suffer any nation under the sun, (while they retain a proper sense of virtue and independence,) to trample upon their rights with impunity, or to direct or influence the internal concerns of their country.
It has been the policy of France, and that of the opposition party among ourselves, to inculcate a belief that all those, who have exerted themselves to keep this country in peace, did it from an overweening attachment to Great Britain. But it is a solemn truth, and you may count upon it, that it is void of foundation, and propagated for no other purpose, than to excite popular clamor against those, whose aim was peace, and whom they wished out of the way.
That there are many among us, who wish to see this country embroiled on the side of Great Britain, and others, who are anxious that we should take part with France against her, admits of no doubt. But it is a fact, on which you may entirely and absolutely rely, that the governing powers of the country and a large part of the people are truly Americans in principle, attached to the interest of it, and unwilling under any circumstances whatsoever to participate in the politics or contests of Europe; much less, since they have found that France, having forsaken the ground she first took, is interfering in the internal concerns of all nations, neutral as well as belligerent, and setting the world in an uproar.
After my Valedictory Address to the people of the United States, you would no doubt be somewhat surprised to hear, that I had again consented to gird on the sword. But, having struggled eight or nine years against the invasion of our rights by one power, and to establish our independence of it, I could not remain an unconcerned spectator of the attempt of another power to accomplish the same object, though in a different way, with less pretensions; indeed, without any at all.
On the politics of Europe I shall express no opinion, nor make any inquiry who is right or who is wrong. I wish well to all nations and to all men. My politics are plain and simple. I think every nation has a right to establish that form of government, under which it conceives it shall live most happy; provided it infracts no right, or is not dangerous to others; and that no governments ought to interfere with the internal concerns of another, except for the security of what is due to themselves.
I sincerely hope, that Madame de Lafayette will accomplish all her wishes in France, and return safe to you with renovated health. I congratulate you on the marriage of your eldest daughter, and beg to be presented to them both and to Virginia in the most respectful and affectionate terms. To George I have written. In all these things Mrs. Washington, as the rest of the family would do if they were at home, most cordially joins me; as she does in wishing you and them every felicity, which this life can afford, as some consolation for your long, cruel, and painful confinement and sufferings.
I shall now only add, what you knew well before, that, with the most sincere friendship and affectionate regard, I am always yours, &c.
P. S. Your old aid de camp—and my worthy nephew George A. Washington; died about five years ago of a pulmonary complaint. He left 3 fine children, a daughter & two sons, the eldest of the boys was called after you.
The letters herewith enclosed and directed one to yourself, another to George and the third to Mr. Frestel, have been some time in my possession and detained to be delivered to you here upon the same principle that prevented me from writing to you at an earlier period.
TO WILLIAM VANS MURRAY.1
Mount Vernon, 26 December, 1798.
Having some cause to believe the vessel was captured, in which went the original of the enclosed copy, I forward a duplicate.
I returned a few days ago from Philadelphia, whither I had been for the purpose of making some military arrangements with the Secretary of War, respecting the force which is about to be raised. It was there I received a letter from Mr. Dandridge, announcing his intention of returning to America, (partly on account of his health,) expressing in lively and grateful terms his sense of your attentions and kind treatment; and adding, that, as experience had more and more convinced him that a sedentary life was incompatible both with his health and turn of mind (a sentiment he had often expressed whilst he lived with me), he wished for an appointment in the army we were about to raise. The application arriving opportunely, he stands arranged as captain of a company of infantry in one of the regiments, which will be raised in Virginia; and it is necessary he should enter upon the duties thereof as soon as it can be made convenient.
Mr. Envoy Logan, who arrived at Philadelphia about the time I did, brings very flattering accounts of the disposition of the French Directory towards this country. He has dined with one, supped with another, and in short has been as familiar with all, (that were in place,) as the hand is with its gloves; and he is not a little employed in propagating this doctrine in all parts of the United States by means of the presses, who are at the command of that party. He says the inclinations of France to be upon good terms with the United States is now so strong, that it must be our own mismanagement and disinclination to peace, if matters with that country are not accommodated upon terms honorable and advantageous to this.1
Both houses of Congress were formed before I left Philadelphia, but had not been long enough in session for an opinion of the result to be prognosticated.
Their answer to the speech wou’d it seems have passed unanimously, could Mr. Varnum of Massachusetts have retained his spleen.—How far this measure is indicative of a tranquil & energetic session, remains to be decided by more unequivocal evidence.
The Alien and Sedition Laws are now the disiderata of the Opposition.—But any thing else would have done,—and something there will always be, for them to torture; and to disturb the public mind with their unfounded and ill favored forebodings.
The family join me in presenting Mrs. Murray and yourself with the compliments of the season, and in wishing you many happy returns of them.
With very sincere esteem, I am, &c.
TO DAVID STUART.
Mount Vernon, 30 December, 1798.
Company, ever since my return home has prevented my mentioning a matter before, which will be the subject of this letter now.
When the applications for Military appointments came to be examined at Philadelphia it was pleasing to find among them so many Gentlemen of family, fortune and high expectations, soliciting Commissions; & not in the high grades.—
This, and a thorough conviction that it was a vain attempt to keep Washington Custis to any literary pursuits, either in a public Seminary, or at home under the direction of any one, gave me the first idea of bringing him forward as a Cornet of Horse.—To this measure too I was induced by the conviction paramount in my breast—that if real danger threatened the country, no young man ought to be an idle spectator of its defence; and that, if a state of preparation would avert the evil of an Invasion, he would be entitled to the merit of proffered service without encountering the dangers of War;—and besides, that it might divert his attention from a matrimonial pursuit (for a while at least) to which his constitution seems to be too prone.
But though actuated by these ideas, I intended to proceed no farther in the business than to provide a vacancy in one of the Troops of light Dragoons, and to consult Mrs. Stuart and his Grandmother as to their inclinations respecting his filling it, before any intimation of it should be given to him;—But Mr. Lear hearing the matter talked of, and not knowing that this was the ground on which I meant to place the appointment (if the arrangement met the President’s approbation) wrote to Washington on the subject, in order to know if it would be agreeable to him, or no to receive it.
Under these circumstances (and his appearing highly delighted) concealment, I mean an attempt at it,—would have proved nugatory.—He stands arranged therefore, a Cornet in the Troop to be commanded by Lawrence Lewis, (who I intended as his Mentor,) Lawrence Washington junr. (of Chotanck) is the Lieutenant of the Troop. But all this it will be remembered is to be approved, first by the President, and consented to by the Senate to make it a valid act, and therefore, the less it is publicly talked of the better.
Mrs. Washington does not seem to have the least objection to his acceptance of the Commission; but it rests with Mrs. Stuart to express her sentiments thereon, and soon; as I requested the Secretary of War to forward the Commissions for this Troop of Light Dragoons, under cover to me.
The only hesitation I had, to induce the caution before mentioned, arose from his being an only Son;—indeed the only male of his Great great Grandfather’s family;—but the same Providence that wd. watch over and protect him in domestic walks can extend the same protection to him in a Camp, or the field of battle, if he should ever be in one.
With compliments to the family, and with the greatest esteem and regard, I am, &c.
TO BUSHROD WASHINGTON.
Mount Vernon, 31 December, 1798.
My dear Sir,
It gave me pleasure to hear from Judge Cushing, that you had returned from your southern circuit in good health. I presume you will soon have to undertake another journey, when I shall hope to see you.1
I was not unmindful of your application in behalf of Captain Blackburn; but, when the list of applicants came to be unfolded, it was found, that there were so many requests of a similar nature from officers of the existing corps, that it was impossible to comply with them, and difficult to discriminate, for which reasons it was deemed best to reject them in toto; especially as in the raising of new corps it rarely happens, that officers are drawn from the old, and nothing but length of service, or very distinguished merit, or powerful interest or influence, gives birth to the measure.
By this conveyance I have sent to General Marshall Judge Addison’s charge to the grand juries of the county courts of the Fifth Circuit of the State of Pennsylvania, and requested, after he had read it, to give it to you, or dispose of it in any other manner he might think proper. This charge is on the liberty of speech and of the press, and is a justification of the sedition and alien laws.
But I do not believe that any thing contained in it, in Evans’s pamphlet,2 or in any other writing, will produce the least change in the conduct of the leaders of opposition to the measures of the general government. They have points to carry, from which no reasoning, no inconsistency of conduct, no absurdity, can divert them. If, however, such writings should produce conviction in the mind of those who have hitherto placed faith in their assertions, it will be a fortunate event for this country.
Has any thing been done, and what, with my correspondent Mr. Langhorne? I have heard since my return from Philadelphia, that there has been some stirring matter, but of the result I am ignorant. The family here present the compliments of the season to you and Mrs. Washington. I remain your sincere friend, &c.
[1 ]“You ought to be aware, my dear Sir, that, in the event of an open rupture with France, the public voice will again call you to command the armies of your country; and, though all who are attached to you will from attachment, as well as public considerations, deplore an occasion which should once more tear you from that repose to which you have so good a right, yet it is the opinion of all those with whom I converse, that you will be compelled to make the sacrifice. All your past labors may demand, to give them efficacy, this further, this very great sacrifice.”—Hamilton to Washington, 19 May, 1798.
[2 ]“The present dangerous crisis of public affairs makes one anxious to know the sentiments of our citizens in different parts of this commonwealth; and no one has a better opportunity to form an opinion of the central part thereof than yourself. This will be my apology for giving you the trouble of a letter at this time.
[1 ]Dr. Belknap died suddenly on the 20th of June, only five days after the above letter was written.
[1 ]See the introduction to Bland’s Fragment on the Pistole Fee Claimed by the Governor of Virginia, 1753, edited by me.
[1 ]On the 28th of May a law was passed by Congress, authorizing the President, “in the event of a declaration of war against the United States, or of actual invasion of their territory by a foreign power, or of imminent danger of such invasion discovered in his opinion to exist, before the next session of Congress, to cause to be enlisted, and to call into actual service, a number of troops not exceeding ten thousand non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates, to be enlisted for a term not exceeding three years.” Authority was also given to the President to organize the army, with a suitable number of major-generals and other officers, into corps of artillery, cavalry, and infantry; and, in short, to make every arrangement for preparing the forces for actual service. This was called a Provisional Army. The measure was adopted in consequence of the threatening aspect of affairs between France and the United States. The causes and particulars are briefly stated in Marshall’sLife of Washington, vol. v., pp. 735-746.
[1 ]“In forming an army,” said the President, in his letter to which the above is an answer, “whenever I must come to that extremity, I am at an immense loss whether to call on all the old generals, or to appoint a young set. If the French come here, we must learn to march with a quick step, and to attack, for in that way only they are said to be vulnerable. I must tax you sometimes for advice. We must have your name, if you will in any case permit us to use it. There will be more efficacy in it, than in many an army.”
[1 ]Alexander Hamilton.
[1 ]He had not yet returned from his mission to France.
[1 ]A paragraph containing the reasons is omitted, being precisely the same as in the letter to Mr. Pickering, dated July 11th. See p. 33.
[1 ]On this point the Secretary of War replied: “I enclose the act for augmenting the army of the United States. You will see, that it does not provide for a quartermaster-general; and that the provisional army law provides that the quarter-master-general under it shall have the rank and pay of lieutenant-colonel only. I thought it best, therefore, that no quartermaster-general should be appointed till Congress meet again, when they may amend the act.”—August 1st.
[1 ]John Sevier, governor of Tennessee.
[1 ]From Dr. Anderson’s Letter: “I have been urged to engage once more in a literary enterprise; and it begins to wear such a seducing aspect, that I am not certain but I may be drawn into it. Agriculture is proposed to be one principal department of the work; natural history, another; by which I mean a general view of the phenomena of nature, the causes of these as far as they are known, and their influence in this universe. This is a noble and inexhaustible theme to engage a man advancing in years, who wishes to free himself as much as he can from those little objects, which form the perplexities of life. The remaining part of the work will be appropriated to miscellaneous disquisitions on arts and literature. It will be a monthly periodical. I am particularly fond of that mode of publication, because truth can thus be gradually impressed on the mind by little and little.”—London, February 8th.
[1 ]The Secretary of War replied: “The President desires me to inform you, that he considers you in the public service from the date of your appointment, and entitled to all the emoluments of it; that you are at liberty to receive all, or any part, at your discretion; that you are fully authorized to appoint your aids and secretaries when you shall think fit; that one secretary at least is indispensable immediately; and that he ought to be allowed his pay and rations. You will be pleased, therefore, to make any or all of these appointments, when you may judge proper.”—Trenton, August 25th.
[1 ]A paragraph is here omitted, which is so much defaced in the manuscript as not to be intelligible. It relates to what General Knox had said respecting the unequal distribution of the general officers in different parts of the country.
[1 ]James McHenry.
[1 ]More delay and embarrassment than usual occurred at this time, in transmitting letters between General Washington and the members of the cabinet, on account of the removal of the public offices to Trenton, caused by the breaking out of the yellow fever in Philadelphia. The President was likewise on a visit to his seat in Massachusetts, and was detained there in consequence of sickness in his family. Congress had adjourned on the 16th of July. The Senate sat three days longer to consider nominations and complete the appointments.
[1 ]See note to the letter to Murray, 26 December, 1798, post.
[1 ]He had recently returned from his unsuccessful mission to France.
[1 ]President of St. John’s College, Annapolis.
[1 ]“The enclosed was written at the time of its date, and, with Mr. Custis, I expected would have left this the next morning for St. John’s college; but although he professed his readiness to do whatever was required of him, his unwillingness to return was too apparent to afford any hope that good would result from it in the prosecution of his studies. And, therefore, as I have now a gentleman living with me who has abilities adequate thereto, will have sufficient leisure to attend to it, and has promised to do so accordingly, I thought best, upon the whole, to keep him here.”—Washington to McDowell 16 September, 1798.
[1 ]From France.
[1 ]“In my opinion, as the matter now stands, General Knox is legally entitled to rank next to General Washington; and no other arrangement will give satisfaction. If General Washington is of this opinion, and will consent to it, you may call him into actual service as soon as you please. The consequence of this will be that Pinckney must rank before Hamilton. . . . You may depend upon it, the five New England States will not patiently submit to the humiliation that has been meditated for them.”—John Adams to James McHenry, 14 August, 1798.
[1 ]The draft of this letter was sent to McHenry for his information.
[1 ]“The letter written by Mr. Wolcott to the President of the United States, and the representation made by me to him so soon as I received official information of the change intended by him in the relative Rank of the Major-Generals, and of his departure in almost every other instance from what I considered a solemn compact, and the only terms on which I would, by an acceptance of the commission, hazard every thing dear and valuable to me, will soon bring matters to a close, so far as it respects myself. But, until the final result of them is known, the less there is said on the subject the better.”—Washington to Pickering, 10 October, 1798.
[1 ]“The last mail to Alexandria brought me a letter from the President of the United States, in which I am informed that he had signed and given the commissions to yourself, Generals Pinckney and Knox the same date, in hopes that an amicable adjustment or acquiescence might take place among you. But, if these hopes should be disappointed, and controversies should arise, they will of course be submitted to me, as commander-in-chief, and if, after all, any one should be so obstinate as to appeal to him from the judgment of the Commander-in-Chief, he was determined to confirm that judgment.
[1 ]From this letter it appeared that a final determination had at length passed in regard to the relative rank of the major-generals, and that the commissions had been made out according to the first plan. The following is an extract.
[1 ]“My opinion is, that, in making a selection of the field-officers, an entire range of the State should be taken; but, in the company officers, regard should be had to distribution, as well for the purpose of facilitating the Recruiting Service, as for other considerations. And, where officers of celebrity in the revolutionary army can be obtained, who are yet in the prime of life, habituated to no bad courses, and well-disposed, that a preference ought to be given to them. Next to these, gentlemen of character, liberal education, and, as far as the fact can be ascertained from inexperience, men who will face danger in any shape in which it can appear; for, if we have a land war, it will be sharp and severe. I must beg leave to add, that all violent opposers of the Government, and French Partisans, should be avoided, or they will disseminate the poison of their principles in the army, and split what ought to be a band of brothers into parties.”—Washington to William R. Davie, 24 October, 1798.
[1 ]A Maryland clergyman who feared lest the Masonic lodges in the United States might be infected with the views of the Illuminati.
[1 ]Minister Resident from the United States in Holland.
[1 ]The mission of Dr. Logan, under the auspices, as it was supposed, of Mr. Jefferson, was a fertile topic of conjecture and discussion in the party politics of the day. While General Washington was in Philadelphia, concerting with the major-generals and Secretary of War the arrangements of the army, Dr. Logan called on him. The following Memorandum of the interview, written down by General Washington at the time, is perhaps more curious as exhibiting a trait of his character, than important for the historical matter it contains.
[1 ]Bushrod Washington was appointed one of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States on the 10th of December.
[2 ]Address to the People of Virginia on the Alien and Sedition Law. Richmond, 1798.