George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Alexander Spotswood, 11 August 1778

To Alexander Spotswood

White plains August 11th 1778

Dear sir

A few days ago I received your favor of the 16th Ulto, which Colonel Lee was so obliging as to transmit.

From the regard I had for you and the estimation in which I held you, as an Officer, I wished your continuance in the Army; and considered your departure from it a loss to the service. This you will readily believe, as you well know my persuasions had been used to prevent it’s taking place before it did. At this time, I can neither interest myself to introduce you into the line again—nor advise you to persevere in your application for the purpose. I am convinced, if the measure were to take place, it would excite infinite discontents—and produce a variety of resignations. When you left the Army, you made a surrender of your Commission, according to the usual and then prevailing custom. This,1 tho very reluctantly (but indeed you left me no choice) was accepted by me and in consequence, many Officers were promoted. To attempt to recall their rise, would be to attempt an impossibility—and no reasonings on the subject would be sufficient to obtain their consent to it. Their objection, I am persuaded, would not proceed from any motives of personal dislike—but from an opinion, that your being introduced again would be an essential injury to their rights. I have every reason to believe, that this is the light in which the matter would be viewed by the Virginia Officers—and I am by no means clear, that the disgust would be confined to them. Whether you were injured or not in the question determined between you and Colo. McClenachan, is a point I shall not undertake to discuss. However, the decision given upon the occasion, was agreable I am certain, to the common, & I believe, universal practice in like cases,2 Viz. that state Officers should rank according to their State precedence when incorporated into the Continental Army. This appears to me to have been a Rule, strongly founded in principles of justice and policy—& to have been calculated to promote a more general harmony than any other that could have been devised. Indeed, in the more early period of the War, there was an absolute necessity for it, as most of the Troops raised in the first instance were State and not Continental; and as a different principle would have been an effectual bar to a large proportion of Officers coming, or at least continuing in service. Nor would policy or the public interest, suffer a discrimination to be made—though the Officers did not all come into the line at one & the same instant.

I have written to you with freedom and as a Friend. I wish you had continued in the Army—but you did not, a regard to the rights of Others and the tranquility of the Virginia line—& perhaps that of the Army at large are opposed to my interesting myself in the smallest degree, to promote your present views. I am Dr sir with great esteem & regard Yr Most Obd. sert


Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. A purported ALS was offered for sale in Stan. V. Henkels’s catalog, Autograph Letters and Documents, being the papers of Cæsar Rodney, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Rodney, Member of the Continental Congress, and Cæsar Rodney, Attorney General of the United States, 13 June 1919, item 241, described as “To Isaiah G. Park?” The transcription printed there shows no significant variation from the draft.

1The words from this point to the end of the parenthesis following were added to the draft in GW’s writing.

2For the decision on the relative ranks of Spotswood and Col. Alexander McClanachan, see Proceedings of a Board of General Officers, 9 July 1777.

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