George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McHenry, 1 February 1799

From James McHenry

Philadelphia 1 Feby 1799

My dear Sir

I received last night your letter of the 27th of Jany and this morning sent for Mr McAlpin and gave him your orders.

It appears to me, that the round cuff and the usual pockets will be neater and handsomer than if slashed and also more dignified. I prefer for the same reason a plain waistcoat. I shall however take the advice of General McPhierson on the different points and endeavour to have the embroidery of the neatest pattern and done by an expert hand.1

It is not easy to discover what Congress will do with the army. I incline to beleive that no reduction will be made in the establishment, and that it is possible there may be some companies added to one or other of the Regiments; I mean either to the cavalry or artillery.2 I am Dr Sir yours affectionately & sincerely

James McHenry


2McHenry enclosed this note for GW: “Mr Harper may be ticklish. He is undoubtedly a man of talents, with excellent points for an officer and has I know felt hurt at his not being promised a place as aid in your family. If you intended in a certain event to have gratified him, I could wish for various good reasons that you should write me in your next letter something flattering respecting his talents and the prominent and laudable part he has taken in our affairs, directing me that, notwithstanding the reservation which you had thought it adviseable to make on this subject I might mention to him that you wished to have him in your family in case of active operations and would reserve an opening &c. &c. This to be destroyed J. McH” (DLC:GW). Before writing his answer on 25 Feb., which was worded in a way that McHenry could show it to Congressman Robert Goodloe Harper, GW wrote, probably on 10 Feb., this private message to McHenry: “I will, shortly, say something more to you on the subject of Mr H——r’s wishes. But I do not know that it will differ from what I have already said on that occasion. That he possesses talents I shall not deny, but there is too much of something else accompanying them, which may not render him the most pleasing character in a family. That, however is not all; Experience, local circumstances, Geographical situations, &ca &ca must all pass in review before I decide. And as I have given the same answers to all who have applied to be Aids under the legal establishment (and no other I presume would he accept)—and to some too whose pretensions in many respects are superior to his—Why should he be more hurt by my circumspect conduct than they? Is it not an evidence that the same or similar causes would produce the same effect, to the disquietude of harmony among the persons about me? I do not reject Mr H——r on the one hand; on the other, I wish to be perfectly disengaged; that I may act from Circumstances as they shall occur. Besides, it is not yet certain that I shall want Aids” (AL, PWacD; letterpress copy, DLC:GW).

For an earlier suggestion to GW that he make Harper an aide and for GW’s reaction to the suggestion, see Alexander Hamilton to GW, 29 July–1 Aug. 1798, and GW to Hamilton, 9 Aug. 1798. GW’s letter of 25 Feb. to McHenry, marked “Private,” reads: “Dear Sir, In a letter lately received from you, you have given me reason to believe that it would not be disagreeable to Mr Harper (in case the exigencies of this Country should call me to the Field) to compose part of my Military Sute, as an Aid de Camp. To have a person therein, of his abilities, would be as pleasing as it might be advantages; but you have been early apprised of my determination to remain perfectly disengaged to any of my established Aids, until the period shall have arrived when a choice must be made; in the selection of which, a variety of considerations (unnecessary to enumerate to you) must combine in fixing it.

“It is not only possible, but highly probable also, that in such a Crisis as wou’d require my attendance in the Field, his services in the Legislature might be of infinite more importance than he could ⟨ren⟩der in the Military line⟨;⟩ and it is a ⟨maxim⟩ with me, that in times of imminent danger to a Country, every true Patriot should occupy the Post in which he can render them the most effectually. Having expressed these sentiments, the matter must rest here.

“I have, it is true, given young Carroll of Carrollton, expectation of becoming a Volunteer Aid of mine, if I should be called to the Field. But this will give him neither Rank, nor Pay, in the line of the Army. The latter he stood in no need of, and the former as he could not contemplate a Military life as a profession, would have been of little importance to him.

“I thank you for the Eagles, and wish they had been accompanied with the Stars. When the cost of both are known, I will remit, or direct the amount to be paid to you in Philadelphia. With very great esteem I am—Dear Sir Your Most Obedt Hble Servt Go: Washington” (ALS, PWacD; letterpress copy, DLC:GW). For GW’s offer to Charles Carroll, Jr., see GW to Carroll, 13 Dec. 1798; for references to the eagles for GW’s uniform, see McHenry to GW, 12 February.

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