George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Moustier, 12 July 1790

From Moustier

Paris July 12. 1790.


Permit me to have the honor of expressing to you my satisfaction at your reestablishment from an illness, which threatened your life.1 No one is more convinced than I am how precious that life is to your country—The interest which I have vowed to the United Americans is too true not to wish sincerely all that is necessary to establish the public order and justice which are the only solid basis of every government. The second year of my stay in the United States2 has furnished me with particular motives of esteem for the principles which there predominate. The example offered at this day by my country proves that when we wander from these principles we plunge deeper and deeper into a dangerous labyrinth⟨,⟩ a mixture of the love of celebrity, of taste for novelty, of want of reflexion, of cupidity, has bewildered many minds. France is at this day in complete anarchy—Meanwhile we are preparing with intoxication for a feast, which ought to be the symbol of reunion of all the citizens.3

How much is humanity to be lamented when we see that the most honest people become dangerous to it by chimerical ideas of perfection. It is indubitable that if moderation and justice had directed the principal movers and Chiefs of the revolution of France, this fine kingdom would now be in a more flourishing situation than it has ever been. Cruel excesses have been committed, the consequences of which are incalculable, and it is obstinately persisted in not to consider them. There are very few men worthy of true liberty, which cannot exist without virtue and respect for the laws, especially those which protect property. Philosophy supplies at this day new masks to ambition and intrigue.

It is bitter for a good citizen to behold his country serving as a lesson to nations, while she might have furnished them with an example. Circumstances have removed me from taking an active part in public affairs—I dare not judge those who are in a different situation⟨.⟩ I wait the development.4 It is a great spot to fill to pretend to remedy evils which no time has been taken to examine, and by means which no experience has confirmed.5

Who can better than you, Sir, pronounce on the difficulty of the art of governing: But who better than you can indicate the means of rendering that difficulty less sensible. The means, doubtless, cannot be the same every where, but every where justice, Order, moderation, generosity ought to serve as basis to secondary means which circumstances, the times, and places make different.

The conviction in which I am of the sentiments which you accord towards a nation that has proved its regard for yours, has authorised me, Sir, to explain a slender part of the impressions which I experience by my attachment for my country, which I see menaced with greater evils than She has yet experienced. In the stagnation which many public affairs now suffer it is not astonishing that I find myself in some sort forgotten—I am ignorant in consequence of the moment when I shall be able to resume my post, and be witness of your successes, for which I shall constantly offer the most sincere vows. I have the honor to be, with respect, Sir, your very humble and very obedient Servant

François de Moustier

May I dare entreat you to make my respectful homage to Madam Washington—Madam de Brehan desires earnestly that she and you, Sir, may hold her in remembrance.

Translation, DLC:GW; ALS, in French, DLC:GW. Text is taken from translation prepared for GW; receiver’s copy, in French, appears in CD-ROM:GW.

1For GW’s illness of May 1790, see William Jackson to Clement Biddle, editorial note, and Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:76–77.

2Eléanor-François-Elie, comte de Moustier, lived in New York as French minister to the United States from January 1788 to October 1789.

3At the beginning of June 1790, the National Assembly and the marquis de Lafayette acquiesced in the holding of an elaborate “fête de la Fédération” in Paris on 14 July 1790, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, and began to prepare for a grand national celebration of revolutionary fraternité. By 29 June 1790 fifteen thousand laborers were transforming the Champ-de-Mars from a military training field and parade ground into an elaborate festival site. Day and night they dug, leveled, and hauled dirt for an earthen amphitheater and a spacious esplanade, and workmen constructed grandstands, rostrums, covered galleries, and an 80–foot-high “Arc de triomphe,” while deputies, National Guard troops, and other participants and spectators began to fill the city. American chargé d’affaires William Short reported to Thomas Jefferson from Paris on 7 July 1790: “It began to be feared that the works of the Champ de Mars would not be finished in time. Some volunteers went to assist the workmen employed. This spread like a flame through Paris and people of both sexes and all ranks and descriptions flock there to work. . . . Many legs and arms have already been broken in the confusion. . . . At this instant large numbers of peasantry from the neighbouring villages are formed in a line of march which extends from the new grille to a considerable distance beyond M. de Richelieu’s, and are going to work at the Champ de Mars” (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 17:17–18). By 11 July Short was able to write that the works were “much advanced and it is not now doubted that they will be ready for the 14th,” which they were, despite rainy weather (ibid., 27). The celebration was widely reported in American newspapers (see, for instance, New-York Daily Gazette, 24 Sept. 1790, and Gazette of the United States [New York], 25 Sept. 1790).

4The translator originally wrote “catastrophe” for “le denouement” before deleting it and settling on “development.”

5This sentence reads in the original: “C’est une grande tache à remplir que celle de pretendre remedier à des maux qu’on ne s’est pas donné le tems de sonder et par des moyens qu’aucune experience n’a constatés.” “Tâche” should have been translated as “task,” not “spot.”

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