George Washington Papers
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To George Washington from Josiah Quincy, 15 April 1780

From Josiah Quincy

Braintree [Mass.] April 15th 1780.


Ever since I had the honor to receive, your Excellency’s answer to my last Letter, relative to the disgraceful command of Boston harbor, by a british 50 gun ship;1 I have wish’d for a subject, on which, my sentiments might prove worthy of your notice; and, of course, an adequate ground, whereon to revive a correspondence, which, for want of it, could not, on my part, be decently continued; But, having never been so happy as to find one, permit me this Conveyance, to beg your Excellency wou’d please to accept, of the enclos’d papers, for your amusement at a leisure hour.

The Orator, is a promising Youth of a liberal education, and was to have been prepared for the Bar, under the tuition of my late dear decd Son; which he has since receiv’d, from my honble Friend J: Adams Esqr. The grateful tribute, paid by him to your Excellency’s merit; however short of it; will, I hope, be not unacceptable, as I have every reason to believe it is sincere; and as it adds only One, to an innumerable host, whose united and fervent Prayer is, that, at a period, not far distant, your Excellency may prove the Saviour of your country, not only from external Violence, but from internal discord, anarchy, and universal confusion!2

The Address of the Convention, which was this day transmitted to me by my honble Friend the President, contains a new constitution of government for this State; which is in imminent danger of being ruined for want of one.3 I shall not anticipate your Excellency’s Judgment on this, which the collective wisd⟨om o⟩f the State has framed; But, have freely delivered my Sentiments on th⟨e subjec⟩t in the enclos’d Letter, to my worthy Friend and Townsman, Doctr Crosby; ⟨mutilated⟩ to refer your Excellency, if the Doctor, after perusal, thinks them worthy of ⟨your a⟩ttention, or rather of your candid correction, to which I shall most chearfully submit.4

It gave me heartfelt pleasure to hear, that my young Friend is under your Excellency’s patronage; because, I am willing to be security for his best endeavors to render himself worthy of it. I am, with inexpressible esteem and gratitude, Your Excellency’s Obliged and faithful Servant

Josa: Quincy


Quincy again wrote GW from Braintree on 27 November. That letter begins: “I am happy to hear, by my worthy Friend Doctr Crosby, that my last Letter to your Excellency, with the Papers enclosed, were not only favorably receiv’d, but reviv’d the Remembrance of One, whom you are so good as to rank among the Number of your Friends” (DLC:GW; see also n.4 below).

1Quincy presumably is referring to GW’s letter to him of 25 April 1776.

2Quincy praised Jonathan Mason, Jr., who authored one of the enclosures, a published pamphlet titled An Oration, Delivered March 6, 1780. At the Request of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston; To Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March, 1770 (Boston, 1780). The inventory of GW’s library compiled after his death included this title (see Griffin, Catalogue of the Washington Collection description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends , 559).

On pages 15–17, Mason celebrated GW without mentioning his name: “But why need we resort to distant ages to furnish us with instances of the effects of patriotism upon individuals? Will not the present day afford at least one illustrious example to our purpose? Yes, my fellow-countrymen, America young America too, can boast her patriots and heroes, men who have saved their country by their virtues, whose characters posterity will admire, and with a pleased attention, listen on tiptoe to the story of their glorious exertions. Let us pause a moment only upon the select catalogue, and take the first upon the list.

View him in his private station, and here, as though Providence for his excellencies had selected him for her own; from the extensive circle of humanity, we perceive him enjoying her richest dispensations. … Having reached the summit of human felicity beyond even the picture of his most sanguine expectations, it is indifferent to him as an individual, whether prince or people rule the State, but nurtured in the bosom of freedom, endowed with a greatness of soul, swallowed up with public spirit and the love of mankind, does oppression scatter her baleful prejudices, does ambition rear its guilty crest, friends, relations and fortune are like the dust of the balance. The pleas of nature give way to those of his country, and urged on by heavenly motives, he flies instantly to her relief. See him while grief distracts his bosom, at the effusion of human blood, grasp the sword of justice and buckle on the harness of the warrior. See him with fortitude unparrallel’d, with perseverance indefatigable, deaf to pleasure and despising corruption, chearfully encountering the severest tasks of duty, and the hardiest toils of a military life. Modest in prosperity, and shining like a meteor in adversity, we behold this patriotic hero, with a small army of determined freemen, attacking, fighting and conquering an army composed of the bravest veteran troops of Britain.

And shall we, my countrymen, stop the current of gratitude? And can we forbear testifying our joy upon the success of such singular exertions? Shall we seal his death before we thank him for his services? By no means—Our acknowledgments will irresistably flow from us to this deserved object of admiration, and his very actions will sting the soul of the ungrateful wretch, until he is forced to admire their lustre, and confess his inability to equal them.

“Some there are, who, Roman like, would banish him for his good conduct; but while we copy the spirit of this great people, let us not be as diligent to catch their vices. Such conduct is inconsistent with the sentiments of freemen, and surely we cannot forget that he has saved our country.” Mason likely was countering cautionary references to GW in the prior year’s “Boston Massacre” remembrance oration (see John Sullivan to GW, 1 Dec. 1779, and n.3 to that document; see also GW to Sullivan, 15 Dec. 1779).

Jonathan Mason, Jr. (1756–1831), son of a prominent Boston merchant, graduated from Princeton in 1774 and then studied law with John Adams. While pursuing his legal career and real estate interests, Mason also served in the Massachusetts legislature, completed an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate (1800–1803), and then won two elections to the U.S. House of Representatives.

3James Bowdoin, president of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, already had sent to GW the Massachusetts state constitution, Quincy’s likely enclosure (see Bowdoin to GW, 6 April, and n.1 to that document).

4The enclosed letter from Quincy to Ebenezer Crosby has not been identified.

Ebenezer Crosby (1753–1788) came from a wealthy Braintree family, graduated from Harvard in 1777, and received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1780. He served as a surgeon’s mate in the hospital at Cambridge, Mass., in early 1777 and as surgeon in GW’s guard from June 1779 until his resignation on 1 Jan. 1781. He practiced medicine in New York City after the war (see Crosby to John Adams, 14 April 1785, in Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977–. description ends , 17:27–28).

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