George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edward Newenham, 15–28 August 1790

From Edward Newenham

Dublin—15[–28]th August 1790

Dear Sir

This day has been a Glorious day to the Rights and Liberties of the Metropolis, as we have carried the Election of the Lord Mayor in opposition to the utmost Efforts of Threats, Bribery, Corruption of Judges & Arbitrary conduct of the Privy Council—I send you the papers in which all the Latter Proceedings are printed—the Contest has lasted these four Months.1

The intention of Government was to let no Alderman be Elected Lord Mayor, except a Police officer, by that means they would have entirely made the Metropolis a Castle Burrough—it rose so great a Ferment, that the Volunteers, which had been silent for 2 years, began again to Muster, nearly as strong as Ever—and they, with Multitude of Citizens, appeared with National Cockades—and had not administration acceded to the Law of the Land in the Election of a Lord Mayor, a General Assembly would have met in the Metropolis, and where that would end the wisest could not foresee.

There never was such an attempt since the Reign of James the 2d—it was an attempt to Supersede the Law of the Land—Annihilate the Charter and totaly Subvert the Constitution of the Metropolis—the dernier Vote is in the Commons of the Common Council—that body consists of about 126—103 attended; the other 23 are mostly infirm or in England—there were 97 for our Mayor and 6 against him, & these 6 were placemen—Is it not, my Dear Friend, the height of Folly & perverseness, that neither Age, Precedents, which have lately occurred, nor the History of other Countries, can teach Some Men Wisdom? was the Minister to have pushed Matters to another Tryal before the Privy Council—the Rubicon would have been passed, and 9 out of 10 in this Kingdom would have united in one Common Cause—In other points, Government may have had some Colour of Argument, as to the Construction of an Act, the Spirit of the Constitution or Precedents, but in this Dispute they want Even the Support of Pretence—the Law was against them, the Act was clear & decisive, they had not a single Supporter, ⟨in⟩ all the public meeting, Save only, an Apothecary & a Guager—all the Bar of Lawyers, against them; the Judges Silent—nay they had not Even the Prayers of the Clergy.

The world has lost Dr Franklin2—he honoured me with a letter 18 Days before his Death—& he told me it would be his last, as he dayly Expected his Dissolution—he sent me a rememberance of him, which I have got, but I would have been highly honoured if he had reserved it to mention it in his will, for I should be truly proud of being recorded in the will of such a man with a ring, a seal, or any thing, let it have been Ever so Small—I appeared in Parliament in full Mourning for him & continued so for one Month—I lost a Friend whose personal friendship and Correspondence can never be Effaced from mine or my Familie’s gratefull Heart.

Your Brother Soldier has nearly Surmounted Every Difficulty—I only fear his Dispute with Orleans, & the Contest with Biron for the Command of the Troops;3 I fear a Commotion on the Election of Both, & Mayor of Paris; there are ⟨Some⟩ Commotions in the Soveregn Councils of the Brabanters,4 but I cannot wish success to the mis-called Patriots of that Country—for they are more inimical to the General Liberties of Mankind, than even a Spaniard or Portuguese; it was only to preserve Convents and Monasteries; they never offered Freedom of Religion or Property—they never lessened the Taxes, or moderated the Church contributions, which bear so heavy on the Poor—they did not give the people any share in the Election of Govenors or Majistrates—nor pass a Law to permit them to purchase Land—the People of Ghent have shewn some Symptoms of French Politics, but they are not Numerous, & Joseph will soon be at Leizure to Employ Force against them—they cannot Stand a Month, unless Supported by Some of the Surrounding Nations; which event depends on the long Expected War, but if we are to credit the reports of this day’s British Mail all is to be Peace, though the British Fleet has Saild in Force.

The King of Sweden seems to imitate, in Courage, some of the Ancient Heroes of that Nation, but he has been Severely defeated by the Vastly Superior force of the Russian; It was a bold attempt to attack 33 Ships of the Line with 28—& to attack 6 of the Line with a Fleet of Frigates & Gallies; he has lost (at least) 7000 men in that Battle;5 I am a Zealous Wellwisher of the Turks, for Austria & Russia are growing too potent for the rest of Europe.

our public papers give Various accts in respect to yours & the Spaniards Disputes—when you have a fleet, I have no Doubt of your settling Colonies in South America, or it may happen, in Time, that, by an Alliance with England, her Fleet may assist you in recieving the Produce of the Mines of Peru, Chili & Mexico—the Spaniards could not oppose you with any Effect; the few remaining Natives would prefer your Countrymen, to the Butchers of Athaballiba6 & Montezuma.

This has been the most Damp, foggy, & wet Summer ever Known in Ireland, not one day in ten could be Called a Summers day; our Hay harvest much damaged, but the Greatness of the Crop makes some Amends for it; our wheat is not (as yet) hurted; it looks well, & if we, soon, have a Change of weather it will be abundant; the Potatoes are beyond our most Sanguine Expectation; the wall fruit, through the whole Kingdom was blasted in the Month of May—this damp season has occasiond Bad Colds & Fevers; those that ever had the Gout or Rheumatism feels the worst Effects from it.

Mrs Montgomery has been Cruely treated by her base Sister, Lady Ranelagh;7 we Endeavoured to shew her every respect, but Lady Ranelagh would not let us be intimate, as she said, it would hurt Lord Ranelagh in the Eyes of the Vice Roy, was he to be frequent in his Visits to me, & Mrs Montgomery had no way of Coming, but in his Carriage—It realy grieves Lady Newenham & I, that we could not oftener see her—she was admired fer her Good sence & behaviour by Every one here—but we most Sincerely regret that these Circumstances occured to prevent all the Family from paying due respect to your Introduction.8

28th Augt 1790

By the public Papers which I have the Honor to send you, it appears all the Crown’d Heads, (one Excepted) in Europe, are leagued against the Improvement of the Constitution of their respective Countries, & that the Spirit of a Single Despot is to rule without a Check; I have no doubt, but Prussia & Austria would assist an English Despot to Govern without a Parliament.

I regret my Letters cannot be more worthy your reading, but I presume to trouble you with them, as a Gratification to me—your correspondence has Ever been Esteemed as an honour by me & I flatter myself that it will continue during our lives.

one of my Sons has Chosen to Continue in the Naval Line, he has served Eleven years, & passed for Leiutenant with the greatest Credit at the End of his fourth year of Service, but as I am not on the side of Ministry, he can get no preferment; yesterday, Commodore Cosby9 was appointed Commander of the Impress Service in this Kingdom, & fer these 3 Days, the press has been the Hottest Ever Known; this looks like an Expected Brush between the two Great fleets—if they meet, I think they will not part without a Tryal of Strength.

I have just recieved a Letter from Mrs Montgomery, that she will be here in a few days, to go on Board the Adventure Brig for New York, which is the Ship that I send this Letter by.10

All my family, particularly Lady Newenham, join me in best respects to Mrs Washington & you. I remain Dear Sir with perfect Respect & Esteem your most Obliged & most Obt Hble Sert

Edward Newenham


1In the Dublin mayoral election of 1790, the board of aldermen nominated as lord mayor Police Commissioner and Alderman William James. When the commons of the Common Council refused to withdraw the name of its preferred candidate, Alderman Henry Howison, the decision of the Irish Privy Council approving James excited popular unrest. A public meeting at the Royal Exchange attacked the Privy Council’s involvement in corporation politics, Newenham and the Whig Club prepared a declaration that was vehemently denounced in the Irish House of Lords, and two corps of Volunteers pledged themselves to defend the liberties of the city. James capitulated and resigned at the end of July, and the board of aldermen quietly approved Howison as lord mayor (R. B. McDowell, Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760–1801 [Oxford, 1979], 345–46).

2Benjamin Franklin died in April 1790.

3The marquis de Lafayette sent one of his chief rivals, prince of the blood Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc d’Orléans (Philippe-Egalité; 1747–1793), on a mission to London after accusing him and his agents of fomenting popular disturbances. Orleans returned to Paris and his seat on the National Assembly on 13 July 1790 at the urging of Armand-Louis de Gontaut (1747–1793), duc de Lauzun, who had become duc de Biron in 1788 and was charged by Lafayette, his former associate in the American Revolution, with complicity in the October Days of 1789 (see La Luzerne to GW, 17 Jan. 1790, n.1).

4The duchy of Brabant in the Austrian Netherlands opposed the anticlerical reforms of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and defeated his Austrian forces at Turnhout in October 1789. The Brabant Revolution had widespread support only in the towns of Belgium; and after Joseph II’s death in February 1790, his brother Leopold II easily reestablished imperial authority in the Low Countries. With little opposition from the countryside, Austrian troops reoccupied Brussels in December 1790.

5Newenham is probably referring to the actions of King Gustavus III’s navy in the Gulf of Finland that culminated in the second Battle of Svensksund on 9 July 1790.

6Atahualpa (or Atabalipa) was the Incan emperor imprisoned and executed by Francisco Pizarro in 1533.

7Sarah Montgomery was the sister of Janet Livingston Montgomery’s late husband, patriot general Richard Montgomery. She was married to Charles Jones, who became fourth Viscount Ranelagh in 1759. Their estate was located twelve miles from the Newenhams’ (see Newenham to GW, 10 Oct. 1789 and note 1).

8For GW’s letter of introduction of Janet Montgomery, see GW to Newenham, 29 July 1789.

9Phillips Cosby (c.1727–1808) was appointed commodore and commander-in-chief of British naval forces in the Mediterranean in 1786, which posts he held until his return to Britain in the summer of 1790.

10Newenham noted on the cover that the letter was delivered by Capt. Hammond of the brig Adventure, and the cover is also postmarked New York, 9 Jan. 1791. The Adventure left Ireland before 10 Nov. 1790 and probably arrived at New York between 8 and 11 Jan. 1791 (New-York Daily Gazette, 11 and 24 Jan. 1791; New-York Packet, 11 Jan. 1791).

GW’s reply to Newenham of 6 Feb. 1791 reads: “I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letters of the 15 and 28 of August and 16 of October last, together with the gazettes which you were pleased to send to me.

“The multiplied public duties which at this time engage my attention, leaving me little or no leisure for the cultivation of private correspondence, I am compelled often to observe a brevity towards my friends, which I trust their goodness will readily pardon—In the number of those indulgent friends I hope Sir Edward Newenham will, on the present occasion, allow me to class him—and, requesting him to present Mrs Washingtons and my respects to Lady Newenham, I beg him to believe that I am, very respectfully, his most obedient Servant” (LB, DLC:GW).

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