Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JOHN ADAMS, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIV (1798-1799)
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TO JOHN ADAMS, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. - 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 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
[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.”