George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Timothy Pickering, 4 August 1799

To Timothy Pickering

Mount Vernon Augt 4th 1799

Dear Sir,

Your favour of the 18th Ulto came to hand in due course of the Mail, and I thank you for the information contained in it.

Is it not time to learn, Officially, and unequivocally, the result of the Presidents message, and consequent (I presume) intimation to the French Government, respecting the appointment of Envoys to Treat with it?

Having no Church nearer than Alexandria (nine miles distant) I usually postpone writing, or answering letters that do not require immediate attention, until then; that the regular exercise I take, and the avocations which employ me, may be less interrupted.

On this principle, the present acknowledgment of your letter (above) has been delayed, and thereby a question, which I intended to propound in it, I find solved, in the Aurora which came to hand last night.

The question I allude to, is, whether the Officers of Government intended to be quiescent under the direct charge of bribery, exhibited in such aggrivated terms by the Editor of the above Paper? The most dangerous consequences would, in my opinion, have flowed from such silence, & therefore could not be overlooked: and yet, I am persuaded that if a rope, a little longer had been given him, he would have hung himself in something worse; if possible: for there seems to be no bounds to his attempts to destroy all confidence, that the People might, and (without sufficient proof of its demerits) ought, to have in their government; thereby dissolving it, and producing a disunion of the States. That this is the object of such Publications as the Aurora and other Papers of the same complexion teem with, those who “run, may read” the motives which are ascribed to them, notwithstanding.

They dare not, at present, act less under covert; but they unfold very fast; and like untimely fruit, or flowers forced in a hot bed, will, I hope, whatever my expectation⟨s⟩ may be, soon wither, and in principle, die like them.

All of the administration, or some of the members are now to look to it, for Mr Duane I perceive, in his address to the Public, on the occasion of his arrest, has assured it “that he has not published a fact which he cannot prove, and that neither persecution nor any other peril to which bad men may expose him, can make him swerve from the cause of republicanism.”1 With very great esteem & regard I am—Dear Sir Your Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, MHi: Pickering Papers; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW. The ALS is docketed “recd 8th.”

1Following the death of Benjamin Franklin Bache in September 1798, William Duane (1760–1835) became editor of the Aurora, the most strident and influential of the Republican newspapers. In February 1799 Duane was acquitted of charges brought against him under the Sedition Act, but he was charged again on 30 July when his attacks on the Adams administration for corruption and undue British influence in its moves to re-open trade with Saint Domingue culminated on 24 July in an accusation of British bribery. After reading Duane’s attack of 24 July, Pickering wrote on the same day to President Adams that Duane had declared that Adams “had asserted the influence of the British Government in the affairs of our own—and insinuated that it was obtained by bribery” (quoted in Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, description begins James Morton Smith. Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties. Ithaca, N.Y., 1956. description ends 283). Pickering also sent a copy of Duane’s article to the federal district attorney in Philadelphia. On 31 July, Duane reported to the readers of the Aurora that he “was yesterday between nine and ten o’clock arrested by John [William] Nichols, esq. marshal of this district, upon a warrant from Judge [Richard] Peters, and on behalf of the administration, for publishing in the Aurora of the 24th instant, certain matters alledged to be defamatory, or untrue, concerning the administration.” Duane’s statement included the assertion that GW quotes here. Duane remained free on bail until he was brought to trial in October, when the case was postponed until 1800. For further references to the prosecution of Duane, see James McHenry to GW, 10 Nov. 1799, and note 4 of that document. See also GW to McHenry, 11 Aug., and notes.

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