George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edward Pemberton, 21 March 1788

From Edward Pemberton

London, at Mr Priddens, No. 100 Fleet Street1
21st March 1788

May it please Your Excellency

The Distinguishd Rank which You will hold in the Annals of Mankind, might rather descourage me from an address of this kind to Yr Excellency, was it not, that Your Merit as a Man, is not inferior to that of a Statesman or Soldier.

I know that Your Excellency is above Flattery which You stand not in need of, as I am above Flattering. What I have said in the few Verses, which I have herewith subjoin’d, was dictated by voluntary Inclination alone.2 should therefore Your Excellency read them with some small degree of Approbation, my purpose will be answer’d, and I must say that then I shall be flatter’d, who give my Praises not so much to the Splendor and Titles of Men as to their Actions and Virtues.

Timoleon proclaiming Liberty to the States of Greece ⟨is⟩ a more Exalted Character in my Eye, than Cæsar or Alexander. Not that Alexander, as Some have Supposed went upon a mere Project of Conquest, or Glory, but to avenge the Grecian States of the Attempts, which the Persians had made to bring them under Subjection. In the same manner the Arming the Christian States to drive the Moors and the Særacens from the Holy Land, was to retaliate in part the Injuries they had attempted to bring upon Christendom by the repeated Invasions of Various parts, and the Conquest of Several.

What Your Excellencys Actions have been a later Period may testify better than the present, when their Effects will be more fully known. As to the Policy of Great Britain respecting Your Country, I ever Condemn’d it as harsh, and unjust, and ever shall do so.

Had Britain been truly wise, She wd have been Satisfied with even less than the Act of Navigation gave at all events nothing should have provoked Hostilities: rather than have come to such, I would have made amicable concessions, a conduct since observed respecting Ireland.

What was the intent of Greece, in founding Colonies? It seems not to have been with a View of drawing Taxes, or Commercial Benefits from them—but to Extend their Fame and their power amongst the Barbarians: and to assure them as Allies to themselves against the Common Enemy—This seems to have been the Policy of the Grecians and also of the Roman People—Two of the most enlightened Nations that ever Existed. Had this Idea been more nearly adopted by Britain than it was, She wd still have had an ample Share of the Riches of America, without restraint or Compulsion—was She to found Colonies, in every part of the Globe no doubt but from Affection they wd in the first Instance seek their Mother Country, tho able to Support themselves. A Wide extended Empire Seperated in its diverse parts—cannot long be held together—therefore is it wise to relinquish the superfluous or useless parts, or those that are too Luxuriant in their Growth, that the Trunk or the Centre, may ever be strong and Vigorous. I had written the above to Your Excellency long ago, but from a diffidence relative to such an address, I put off the sending it from time to time since which some great Occurrences have arose in Your States which are worthy of abler Pen than mine to celebrate. This may now probably reach Your Excellency at a Season when all the Beauties of Nature will universally concur to render delightful great designs founded upon the Love of Liberty, and the happiness of Mankind.

You have a Vast World to work in, favour’d with every diversity of Climate and Soil Capable of every improvement which Ingenuity and art can Suggest.

I believe there may already be a Junction form’d between the Rivers Ohio and Missisippi—but whether it may have been Suggested that a Junction with the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean may be a work hereafter practicable by means of Rivers and Canals I do not know—but in some Latitude from South to North, it may be possible—was the interior Continent peopled throughout. that Your Excellency may long continue in health to consult for the welfare of the rising and flourishing States is the sincere wish of Your most humble and Obedient Servant

Edwd Pemberton

P.S. As I am not much used to approach Great Men, I hope Your Excellency will excuse the ⟨mutilated⟩tions and Inaccuracies ⟨mutilated⟩ Sentiments, and Stile.3


1“Mr Pridden” is probably John Pridden (1758–1825), curate of St. Bride’s, Fleet Street, from 1783 to 1803. He was a renowned antiquarian and philanthropist.

2The enclosed poem of 41 lines, which appears in its entirety in CD-ROM:GW, begins:

Accept Great Chief the Tribute of my Lay:

Foremost in Arms Thoust clos’d a glorious Day:

And the thick Laurels shade thy Evening Ray.

And it ends:

A Cato Thou to bring the Tyrants down:

And wear with Modest Worth the Civic Crown—

The People Sav’d a Monument shall raise

With Songs of Triumph, and thy Endless Praise

Shall live in Verse; that Spurns the dreary Grave

To Die the tuneful Muse forbids the Brave

No published work by Pemberton has been identified.

3GW wrote Pemberton from Mount Vernon on 20 June: “Sir, I have Just received the letter and peice of poetry which you did me the favour to address to me, on 21st of March last: and take an early opportunity of acknowledging the receipt of them and of expressing my sense of the sentiments you are pleased to entertain for me. It cannot fail of being agreeable to me, that my conduct (th[r]ough the difficult scenes in which I have been called to act) should be approved, where my person is unknown.

“Not arrogating to myself any particular skill in deciding critically on the merits of poetical compositions, you will excuse me for being silent on a subject In which I pretend not to Judge and for adverting rather to the friendly wishes you make for myself and Country; than to the style and numbers in wh[ic]h they are communicated. You may be assured, Sir, that the good opinion of honest men, friends to freedom and well-wishers to mankind, where ever they may happen to be born or reside, is the only kind of reputation a wise man would ever desire.

“Although your observations on antient Colonization and the recent Contest between Great Britain and America seem to be founded: yet it only remains now to profit of our actual situation by a liberal commercial intercourse. In the mean time, your disinterested friendship for this Country will probably be gratified, on the adoption of measures now in contemplation, in finding that it will arrive at a degree of respectability and happiness, to which it hath hitherto been a stranger. I am with all due regard Sir Your most huble Servant Go. Washington” (LB, DLC:GW; the ALS was listed in the Alvin Schener catalog no. 4, item 1903–A, 1928).

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