George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Reed, 15 July 1779

From Joseph Reed

Philad. July 15. 1779.

Dear Sir

I should not trouble you with the inclosed Paper if I did not know that you can look down with Contempt on these feeble Efforts of Malevolence & Resentment, and that I am introduced into it to bear false Witness.1 I have addressed a Peice to the Printer wherein I have made such Remarks & taken such Notice of this Attempt as I thought a Respect to my own Character required.2 I have also the Pleasure of assuring you that the Performance has met with the most general Detestation & Resentmt involving the Printer & all concerned in a most disagreeable Dilemma. This is so true a Criterion of the Sense of the publick that I cannot help congratulating you on this genuine Mark of publick Affection.3

The Publick Papers convey a tolerable Idea of our publick Affairs: There seems to be a general Wish for Attention to our Finances & a Revival of that Spirit of Patriotism which mark’d our early Efforts. This if properly cherished may produce happy Effects—if suffered to languish & expire will carry publick Credit with it. I am fully convinced this is the Oppy & if lost or neglected will never be recovered. It would be too tedious & improper an Interruption for me to enter into any Detail, and perhaps I am not sufficiently impartial. Great Events are certainly comprized in the next Six Months. God grant they may be favourable to America. I verily believe Spain has declared for us by this Time tho there is no certain Account of it.4

I dare not presume to wish you a shining or a pleasant Campaign, the State of the Country where you are forbids the one & I fear the State of your Army forbids the other. But I may & do most sincerely wish you Health & at least a safe Campaign—in some Sense Safety to us is Victory. I am with the most sincere Regard Dr Sir Your Obed. & Affect. Hbble Serv.

Jos: Reed


1Reed is referring to an item from the first page of The Maryland Journal, and Baltimore Advertiser for 6 July, which is in DLC:GW, and is printed as an enclosure to this letter.

2Reed’s letter to the editor, written at Philadelphia on 14 July, appeared in The Maryland Journal, and Baltimore Advertiser for 3 August. William Goddard, publisher of that newspaper, prefaced Reed’s letter with a statement written at Baltimore on 30 July. Goddard’s preface and Reed’s letter read: “To the Printer of the MARYLAND JOURNAL. Tho’ the ‘Queries, political and military,’ which I lately handed to your Press, obtained, thro’ tyrannical means, a very partial Publication, having been suppressed very early after the first appearance of the Paper which contained them, yet I must desire you will give the following Piece, which I received, a few days, at Annapolis, from his Excellency the President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, an immediate and general circulation in the Maryland Journal.—I am induced to make this request by the same principle of justice which actuated my conduct in the case of the reprobated Queries.—All rational and honest men must, I am persuaded, approve this Gentleman’s mode of vindicating the character of the amiable Commander in Chief of our Army, while they execrate the brutal measures which have been lately pursued by a weak and wicked faction in this Town—measures which tend, effectually, to subvert that very Freedom which the worthy General hath been, upwards of four years, sacrificing his domestic felicity, and hazarding his life to secure. … W. GODDARD. … To the Printer of the MARYLAND JOURNAL. The aspersions which have been thrown on my own character, from the Press, I have ever despised too much to take the least notice of them:—But when a most valuable, and amiable character is attacked through me, I think it my duty to remark it, and guard the Public from error even in opinion. In a set of Queries, designed to lessen the Character of General Washington, in a late paper, I am alluded to, so particularly as not to be mistaken, and quoted as having furnished evidences under my own hand, that General Washington was not the distinguished character the addresses of the Council of this State had represented: From which an inference is to be drawn prejudicial to the General in point of ability, and the Council in consistency, so far as I had any share in those addresses. This insinuation I therefore think it my duty to contradict; and though the sanctity of private and confidential correspondence has been grossly violated on this occasion, I should have passed it by, if the fact had not been as grossly mistated.—The only ground on which this insinuation can be made, arose from the following circumstance: In the fall 1776, I was extremely anxious that Fort-Washington should be evacuated—there was a difference of opinion among those whom the General consulted, and he hesitated more than I ever knew him on any other occasion, and more than I thought the public service admitted. Knowing that Gen. Lee’s opinion would be a great support to mine, I wrote to him from Hackinsack, stating the case and my reasons, and I think urging him to join me in sentiment at the close of my letter, and, alluding to the particular subject then before me, to the best of my recollection, I added this sentence: ‘With a thousand good and great qualities, there is a want of decision to complete the perfect military character.’

“Upon this sentence, or one to this effect, wrote in haste, in full confidence, and in great anxiety for the event, is this ungenerous sentiment introduced into the world. The event but too fully justified my anxiety, for the fort was summoned that very day, and surrendered the next. I absolutely deny that there is any other ground but this letter, and if there is, let it be produced.—I have now only to add, that though General Washington soon after, by an accident, knew of this circumstance, it never lessened the friendship which subsisted between us. He had too much greatness of mind to suppose himself incapable of mistakes, or dislike a faithful friend who should note an error with such circumstances of respect, and on such an occasion. I have since been with this great and good man (for such he is) at very critical moments, and hope I shall not be suspected of unbecoming adulation, when I assure my countrymen (so far as my opinion is thought of any consequence) that they may repose themselves in perfect confidence on his prudence and judgment, which are equal to any circumstances;—and that repeated experience of the value of his opinions have inspired him with more dependence on them, than his modesty and diffidence would in some cases formerly admit—Time will show whether his enemies will not find themselves disappointed in their attempts to shake the public confidence, and lessen a character of so much worth, to gratify private violent resentments.” In a letter to Reed dated 22 Aug., GW expressed “grateful acknowledgements” for his “favourable sentiments.”

3For the protests in defense of GW that erupted in Baltimore after publication of the “Queries, political and military” on 6 July, and forced Goddard to issue an apology, see the source note to the enclosure printed with this document (see also n.2 above).

4For the Spanish declaration of war against Great Britain, see GW to Reed, 29 July, n.9.

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