Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO HENRY KNOX. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIV (1798-1799)
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TO HENRY KNOX. - 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 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.
[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.