George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Arthur Lee, 13 May 1787

From Arthur Lee

Newyork May 13th 1787

Dear Sir

I have receivd private information, that it is the intention of the meeting of the Cincinnati to re-elect you as their President, notwithstanding your letter. They think you are so plegd to them, by some of your letters that you cannot refuse the Presidency.1

The expected removal of Congress to Philadelphia, has again faild by one vote.2 I am inclind to think, that the more this step is considerd, the fewer Advocates it will find. The commercial Cities of our State, are struggling against the vast superiority which Philadelphia acquird during the war. So great an addition of money & influence, as the residence of Congress woud give, to the Merchants of that place; woud I apprehend give them a decided controul over our Commerce, if not an entire monopoly. Our native Merchants woud not be able to stand against their factors & all the profits of our trade woud center in Philadelphia. The british Packet brings no news of consequence. The impeachment of Governor Hastings is determind by a great majority in the Commons.3 The national justice of that kingdom is much interested in arresting the progress of that excessive cruelty & injustice, which have been practisd in India, in order to extort immense wealth from its wretched Natives. I hope, Sir, that your rheumatic pains are entirely removd, tho the weather, as we have it here, is more calculated to give than to releive such maladies.

Be pleasd to make my most respectful Compliments acceptable to your Lady. I have the honor to be with very great respect & esteem, dear Sir, Yr most obedt Servt

Arthur Lee


1GW’s announcement on 31 Nov. 1786 that he would not accept reelection to the presidency of the Society of the Cincinnati was rooted in his sense that the state societies were rejecting the reforms in the society’s Institution, or constitution, which he had secured at the General Meeting in 1784. See Winthrop Sargent’s Journal, 4–18 May 1784, and note 16. It became clear when the General Meeting got under way in Philadelphia that GW was correct in his assessment. “We are,” wrote Maj. George Turner to Samuel Blachley Webb, “apparently, all hot for a Renewal of the old Institution. . . . General Washington will be among us in few Hours more—But, entre nous, I could almost wish for the Absence of the Illustrious Chief,—whose extreme Prudence & Circumspection (having himself much Fame to lose) may cool our laudable and necessary Ebullition with a few Drops, if not a Torrent, of Cold Water” (quoted in Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, description begins Minor Myers, Jr. Liberty without Anarchy: A History of the Society of the Cincinnati. Charlottesville, Va., 1983. description ends 96). GW, who arrived in Philadelphia on 13 May, did not attend any of the meetings of the Cincinnati but accepted reelection to the presidency on 18 May. See Henry Knox’s defense of the Society of the Cincinnati in his letter to GW of 19 March.

2On 21 April, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York voted against the move. South Carolina and Maryland did not vote (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 32:226–27).

3Warren Hastings’s impeachment was voted in the House of Commons on 3 April 1787 by a vote of nearly three to one.

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