George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Langhorne [Peter Carr], 25 September 1797

From John Langhorne [Peter Carr]

Warren, Albemarle County, Sep. 25 1797.


When a man of distinguished worth suffers unmerited calumny, it has the same effect as an eclipse of the sun, which serves only to make it admired the more. While it shines in unvaried light, and splendor, it shines unnoticed; but when it is obscured by some sudden and unexpected darkness, it attracts our attention, and emerges with an unusual and superior eclat. Such will be the only effect you will experience from those unjust aspersions which have been lately thrown upon you. Nothing but truth can possibly last. They will vanish, and leave behind them a more than usual lustre. There is no cause then, why you should distress, or even disturb yourself a moment concerning them. Too impruden[t]ly delicate! is your peace to be broken because there are fools and knaves in the world? is it possible that you may suffer as much from the villainy of others in this respect, as you could do from your own demerit? of what use then is virtue? of what use is the consciousness of uniform integrity, if it will not produce the only end both of wisdom and virtue, which is our own proper quiet and happiness? Certainly, under the direction of a right philosophy, it could not fail of producing both. it is in vain to labour, if we refuse to enjoy the fruits, or effects of our industry. Would it not be absurd, after we had cultivated a garden, to deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of its fruits and flowers, because some malicious neighbour had reported that it was over-run with weeds? when we beheld our walks and parterres in order, should we deny ourselves the pleasure they might afford us on account of such a report, impossible, you say! it would be perfectly ridiculous. It is most true: and not less ridiculous, not less unreasonable and absurd would it be, for a virtuous man to forfeit that happiness to which his virtue entitles him, because malevolence has branded him with unjust accusations. Till there shall be a possibility of banishing from human society all envy, all dishonesty, and all ill-nature, it would be unwise to make ourselves miserable about their effects. Let those effects always be confined to the objects from whence they proceed; there it is only that they ought to be, and there it is, generally, that they are productive of misery. Every good man has a right to be happy, in spite of the most villainous machinations; and if they make him otherwise, his philosophy at least is not equal to his virtue. These observations have been made, Sir, in the hope that they might possibly administer some comfort, to a mind, eminently great, and virtuous: not, in the belief, that the calumnies against you, have absolutely disturbed your peace, but in the possibility, that at some time, they might for a moment over-cloud your happiness, which ought to be dear to every good man.1 I am Sir with the highest sentiments of esteem for your person, and veneration for your character yr very H: servt

John Langhorne

ALS, DLC:GW. The letter was mailed from Charlottesville, “To be left at the Alexandria Post Office.”

1More than a month after making his routine reply to this letter from Langhorne on 15 Oct., GW received a letter, dated 18 Nov., from John Nicholas of Charlottesville, telling him that the Langhorne letter was not written by anyone of that name. Rather it was written by a man “closely connected with some of your greatest and bitterest enemies,” whose purpose in writing the letter had been to lead GW into some sort of indiscretion. On 30 Nov. GW thanked Nicholas for the “kind intention” of his letter and confessed that he had dismissed Langhorne as simply “a pedant, who was desirous of displaying the flowers of his pen.” To demonstrate that if the unnamed man’s intent indeed had been what Nicholas had asserted he had clearly failed, GW enclosed for Nicholas a copy of Langhorne’s letter and of his own response, and he asked that Nicholas keep him informed of “the result of the inve⟨stigation⟩.” On 9 Dec. Nicholas reported that the self-proclaimed writer of the Langhorne letter was Peter Carr, “a favourite nephew of your very sincere friend Mr Jefferson,” and that Carr held views “very different indeed towards you from those contained in his letter.” When Nicholas next wrote to GW, on 22 Feb. 1798, he conceded that he had been able “to make no further discovery of the design” of the Langhorne “transaction” and then launched a bitter attack on Thomas Jefferson as “one of the most artful, intriguing, industrious and double-faced politicians in all America.” GW’s letter of response dated 8 Mar. 1798, sent to Nicholas after GW had consulted with Bushrod Washington, is the sharpest and most open criticism of Jefferson penned by GW. No further letters written by Nicholas or GW to one another has been found, but see also GW to Bushrod Washington, 8 Mar. 1798, and Bushrod Washington to GW, 13 Mar. 1798. Peter Carr (1770–1815) was the son of Dabney Carr and Thomas Jefferson’s sister Martha. After his father’s early death in 1773, Jefferson made himself responsible for young Carr’s education. For an identification of John Nicholas, see source note to Nicholas to GW, 18 November.

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