George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Otho Holland Williams, 13 May 1792

From Otho Holland Williams

Baltimore 13th May 1792


By a Note, received this morning from Mr Lear, I am requested to let you know “if I have received the notification of my appointment to the Office of Brigadier General; and whether I accept.”1

I have not, Sir, received any Official Notice of such an appointment.

My answer to a private letter from the secretary of War, of which the inclosed is a copy, may in some measure, account for the delay; at the same time that it adduces some of the reasons which I beg may be received as my appology for not accepting.2

A propensity to the science of War, as a necessary means of public defence, and a desire of contributing to the service of my Country, had induced the contemplation of an appointment in the Army; and I had mentioned it to my friends previous to the receipt of General Knox’s private letter; But the advice of my Physicians and the intreaties of all my friends united with the consideration of very great private inconvenience to make me wish that I might not receive that honor.

It is with real regret, Sir, that I am forced to decline the command to which it has been your pleasure to appoint me; and I feel perhaps more than is common upon such occasions as this is the first instance, of a great many, wherein my services have been required by my Country, either in a Military or a civil capacity, in which I have not obeyed the summons with alacrity and pleasure. I have the honor to be, with the most perfect respect, Sir, Your most Obliged, and most obedient, Humble, Servant.

O. H. Williams

N.B. Sunday3 10 o’Clock. I have this moment received an Official Notification from the Secretary at War, which I will answer immediately.

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ADfS, MdHi: Otho Holland Williams Papers.

1GW nominated Williams a brigadier general in the U.S. Army on 8 May, and the Senate confirmed the appointment that same day (see GW to the U.S. Senate, 8 May [second letter]; Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:124). Tobias Lear’s note to Williams of 13 May 1792 is located at MdHi: Otho Holland Williams Papers.

2Williams enclosed a copy of his letter to Henry Knox of 6 May, which was written in response to Knox’s “private letter” of 3 May and which reads in part: “I could not, at this time accept a command in the army even if the President were to think me worthy of commanding in chief.

“My health, for more than two Years, has been extremely precarious, and still requires the most attentive care. The happiness of my family, which is most dear to me, in case of my acceptance, must be for a time suspended if not sacrifised; and a charge in which my affections and integrity are engaged, a charge of a number of Orphan children and their estates, must be neglected. Under present circumstances I request to be excused for declining the honor proposed to be conferred on me” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

3Williams’s closing note was written on this same day, Sunday, 13 May 1792.

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