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To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 1 December 1779

From Major General John Sullivan

Pompton [N.J.] Decemr 1st 1779

Dear General,

Perhaps, there was never more Justice in any advice, Than that given by the Philosopher to his Prince, viz. “Always beware of the Man, that flatters you, and appears to Coincide with your Sentiments, on all Occasions.”1

I am Confident that I have never appeared to your Excellencey in this Character, Nay I have Studied to Avoid Even the appearance of being a Flatterer—I have at the Same time, that your Excellencey (as well as all others in high Office) had those Animal Constantly Courting your favors; And I Confess that I have at Sometimes felt an uneasiness least any Neglect of Expressing those Sentiments of Esteem & affection, which I really felt, Should be Construed into a want of Cordial Esteem for that Commander, to whom, America Stands So much Indebted.

Conscious However of my own Sincerity, I Contented myself with yielding a Chearful Obedience to all orders, your Excelly was pleased to Honor me with, Not Doubting, that Some Future period might Discover, in whose Bosom, the Most Lively Sentiments of Friendship & Esteem were Lodged.

But as my present State of health almost forbids Me to hope for the Honor of Serving again under your Command, your Excellencey will Excuse me, in Declaring, that I have Ever felt those Exalted Sentiments of Esteem & affection for you, that Even your Sincerest friend can boast. My Publick & Constant Declarations have been, & I now repeat, that in my opinion, you are the Saviour of this Country, And that to your fortitude, bravery, & Steady Perseverance, do we owe, the Independance & Freedom we Enjoy.

This I Say, to remove any Doubts, that may have arisen respecting my Friendship & Affection; And I Should now have Avoided it, did not my own feelings too Strongly Indicate, that I can never have the pleasure of again Serving under your Excellencey’s Command.

You will please to Pardon this long & (I dare Say to you) Tedious Introduction to Something more Interesting.

Permit me then to Inform your Excellencey, that the Faction Raised against you in 1777; into which, General Conway was unfortunately & Imprudently Drawn, is not yet Destroyed.2 The Members are waiting to Collect Strength & Sieze Some favorable moment, to appear in force.

I Speak not from Conjecture, but from Certain knowledge. Their Plan is, to take Every method of proving the Danger, Arising from a Commander, who Enjoys the full & unlimited Confidence of his army, & Alarm the People with the Prospects of Imaginary Evil: Nay, they will Endeavor to Convert your virtue into Arrows, with which they will Seek to wound you.

This Plan was adopted the Last winter, & if you will take the Trouble of reading Mr Tudors Oration, Delivered at Boston in March Last, You will find Every Line Calculated to answer this purpose. The words are Tudor’s, but, the Thoughts are Borrowed. I heard them thrown out, Long before they were by him laid before the publick.3

Here, I Cannot help Digressing, to Congratulate your Excellencey, on your Compelling them to Attack your virtues, & not putting it in their power to point out a Single vice.

The next Step, is to persuade Congress, That the Military power of America Should be placed in three or four Different hands, Each having a Seperate Quarter of the Continent assigned him, Each Commander to answer to Congress only, for his Conduct; This they Say, will prevent an Aspiring Commander from Enslaving his Country, & put it in the power of Congress, with the assistance of the other Commanders, to punish the Attempt. This is a Refinement in Politicks, & an Improvement on Publick virtue, which Greece or Rome Could never Boast.

The present time is unfavorable to their Designs, they well know, that the voice of Citizens & Soldiers would be almost unanimously against them: But, they wait a more favorable opportunity, which, they will Certainly Improve.

I am well Convinced, that they Cannot Succeed, yet, I thought it my Duty, in the moment of my Departure, to give your Excellencey this notice, that, you may not only be on your Guard, but Avoid Entrusting those Persons, in matters, where, Your Interest & Honor are Nearly Concerned. Appearances May Deceive Even an Angel. Could you have believed four years Since, that those Adulators, those persons So Tenderly & So friendly Used, as were Gates Mifflin Read4 & Tudor, would become your Secret & bitter, Though unprovoked Enemies. If we view them now, we Cannot help Lamenting the want of Sincerity in mankind. I persuade myself, that your Excellenceys Steady & prudent Conduct, will Baffle Every attempt, & I feel happy, in having Discharged my Duty to the Best of Commanders: And only beg Leave to assure your Excey, that in whatever Station fortune may place me in Future; no man will be more Ready To Bestow the Rewards Due to Your Excellenceys Disinterested zeal, Bravery, Fortitude & Perseverance, Than, Dear General, Your Excellenceys Most obedient, & Devoted Servant

Jno. Sullivan.

ALS, DLC:GW. GW replied to Sullivan on 15 December.

For Sullivan’s tender of resignation from the army and its final acceptance on 30 Nov., see his second letter to GW, 6 Nov., and the source note to that document. Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, wrote GW from Philadelphia on 2 Dec. with official notice of Sullivan’s resignation. That letter reads: “By the enclos’d Act of Congress of the 30th ulto your Excellency will observe they have accepted of Major Genl Sullivan’s Resignation” (LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 14). The enclosure, a copy of three resolutions related to Sullivan passed on 30 Nov., is in DLC:GW; see also JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 15:1333–34.

1Sullivan is referring to chapter 23 in Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, first published during the early sixteenth century and translated into English as early as 1640.

2For GW’s forceful response to what he perceived as a dastardly attempt to undermine his authority, see his letter to Thomas Conway, c.5 Nov. 1777, and Conway to GW, 5 Nov.; see also GW to Horatio Gates, 4 Jan. 1778, and n.3 to that document.

3Sullivan is alluding to William Tudor’s production published as An Oration, Delivered March 5th, 1779, at the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston; To Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March, 1770 (Boston, 1779). It begins: “Fathers, Countrymen, Friends, ‘THAT man was born to delude and be deluded; to believe whatever is taught, and bear whatsoever is imposed;’ are political dogmas which have long afforded matter for exultation and security to dignified villains, from the powergrasping monarch, to the lowest minion of office. But however justified they may have been and now are, by the passive conduct of the greatest part of mankind, you, my fellow-citizens, thank God, you are an exception to their truth.” Tudor then warned against the “deleterious influence” of “luxury, corruption, and standing armies” and developed a theme readily applicable to GW: “And this mode of introducing bondage is ever to be apprehended at the close of a successful struggle for liberty, when a triumphant army, elated with victories, and headed by a popular General, may become more formidable than the tyrant that has been expelled. Witness the last century in the English history. Witness the aspiring Cromwell! …

“The first CÆSAR affords us another instance among the thousands which history holds up to our view, to teach us what bold and unprincipled spirits have effected by the aid of armies. …

If Rome could have been saved, BRUTUS and his virtuous associates would have saved her; but a standing army, and a perpetual dictator, were, and ever will prove too hard for the patriotic few. Learn hence, my countrymen, that a State may sink so low in slavery that even virtue itself cannot retrieve her. From these examples, prudence dictates—resist beginnings. A free and wise people will never suffer any citizen to become too popular—much less too powerful. A man may be formidable to the constitution even by his virtues.”

4Sullivan meant Joseph Reed.

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