George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Brooks, 7 July 1789

From John Brooks

Medford [Mass.] July 7th 1789.


I have sustained a conflict in my own mind for some time past relative to the present address. At length, however, considerations of a private, tho’ I would hope not of an unjustifiable, nature have gained the ascendancy, & I have determined to venture myself upon your candour.

It would be useless, as well as improper, for me to enter into a particular detail of events which have occurred to me since I took leave of the army. Suffer me however to observe that too great a confidence in the promises of the government, together with my having entered into the commercial line at so inauspicious a period as the close of the war, have proved to me fruitful sources of embarrassment & distress: From which, however, by the attention & assistance of my friends, & by having again resorted to the business of my profession, I am happily relieved. Having for two years past renounced the idea of civil life, as it respects the state government, (which, I flatter myself, has ever been at my own election) I have been, as I now am, devoted to the practice of medicine. But I am ready to confess that I do not feel myself so perfectly wedded to this line of life as to determine at all events to pursue it.

The federal government opens upon us a scene new & variegated, & presents objects to which the most virtuous, may, with propriety aspire. For my own part I must acknowledge that I do not possess such a degree of apathy as to wish to remain an unaffected spectator of the important drama now commencing. The enthusiasm of patriotism, of which the late war furnished so many instances, cannot be supposed to operate in the calm season of a settled government. Considerations of private interest will intermingle themselves with a concern for the public. It is for you alone, sir, to exhibit to an admiring world an instance of the splendid triumph of the sublime principles of patriotism over those of private interest & personal emolument. While therefore I venture to make a tender of my services to you, sir, as the supreme magistrate of this nation, I do not profess myself to be governed solely by a regard to the public. Having a family, I feel it my first duty to endeavour to make them happy. But if, consistently with this view, I can be useful to the public, duty & inclination would conspire to call forth my best services. Mrs Brooks, gratefully recognizing the numerous instances of Mrs Washington’s kind & condescending attention, unites with me in presenting to her most respectful & affectionate compliments.1 It only remains for me to express my most sincere & ardent wishes for your personal & relative happiness, & to assure you that with the highest veneration & attachment.2 I have the honour to be Sir, your most obedt & devoted servt

J. Brooks.


John Brooks (1752–1825) was practicing medicine in Reading, Mass., at the outbreak of the American Revolution. He joined the army in 1775 and ended the war as a lieutenant colonel. After the war Brooks returned to medical practice in Medford, Mass., serving in the Massachusetts legislature in 1785 and 1786. In 1786 Gov. James Bowdoin appointed him major general in command of the Middlesex militia which marched against the insurgents during Shays’ Rebellion. In 1791 GW made him federal marshal for Massachusetts and in the same year he served a term in the Massachusetts senate. When the United States army was reorganized in 1792, Brooks was appointed brigadier general, a post he held until 1796. From 1816 to 1823 he was governor of Massachusetts.

1Brooks married Lucy Smith (c.1753-1791) in 1774.

2On 13 Aug. 1789 Brooks renewed his application: “When I took the Liberty, some weeks since, of intimating to you, Sir, my wishes to be considered as a candidate for office under the federal government, I did it without reference to any particular object. But having had it suggested to me within a few days past, that the appointment of a Marshall for this district is soon to be made, I take the licence of again troubling you, & of communicating to you my wishes to be viewed as a candidate for that office. I am not without my fears that the method I am taking will be viewed in your mind as indelicate & improper. My apology, Sir, is the perfect confidence I have in your candour” (DLC:GW). Brooks’s application for the post was supported by a letter to GW from Benjamin Lincoln, 11 Aug. 1789: “Our friend General Brooks the late Colo. Brooks is the same amiable & good man he ever was wishes some employ under the new government if there should be an opening to an appointment which he could receive. He is a very popular and an influential character, in this part of the country, which will always give him an advantage. His abilities & faithfulness are know[n] to your Excellency—Those who know him wish the public may have the benefit of his services He will not, I am confident, decline any appointment Your Excellency should think proper to give him though his wishes would be gratified by being a Marshall of this district” (DLC:GW).

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