Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 29 May 1781

To Lafayette

Charlottesville May 29th. 1781


I am honored with your Favor of the 26th as I had been by one of the Day before from Colo. John Walker who informed me that he wrote at your Request on the Subject of horses. I have now the Pleasure to inclose to you eight Impress Warrants accompanied with Resolutions of the House of Delegates, which I obtained yesterday and to inform you that as soon as the other Branch of the Legislature is convened I believe they are disposed to strengthen you with Cavalry to any Amount you think proper and with as good Horses as you shall think Oeconomy should induce us to take. Stud Horses and Brood Mares will be always excepted because to take them would be to rip up the Hen which laid the Golden Eggs.

I am sorry it has not been in your Power to send me the County Returns of Militia. I assure you that such Returns weekly are indispensably necessary to enable the Executive to keep Militia in the Field. I did however, on receiving Information from Colo. Walker that the Enemy were reinforced, call for one Fourth of the Militia of Washington, Montgomery, Botetourt, Rockbridge, Augusta, Rockingham and Amherst which (the last excepted) are our best rifle Counties. They will rendezvous at Charlottesville and there expect your Orders.

Baron Steuben informed me also that only two men were employed in repairing the damaged Arms. I am at a Loss what to think on this Subject as I have received Assurance that one hundred a Week are repaired there and that very shortly they will be enabled to repair 150 a Week. I will take immediate Measures for procuring a State of the Repairs.

I sincerely and anxiously wish you may be enabled to prevent Lord Cornwallis from engaging you till you shall be sufficiently reinforced and be able to engage him on your own terms. This may be the Case when your Superiority in Cavalry shall become decided which I have the most sanguine hopes the Assembly will immediately provide for. In the mean Time the upper Country will afford you a secure Retreat presenting Hills inacessible to Horse and approaching them to their most dangerous Enemies the Riflemen.

I will take the Liberty of recommending to you that the two Field Officers to be appointed for valuing the Impressed horses be skilled in that Business, and that the same two may go through the whole Business that all may be valued on the same Scale. Also that Officers of mild and condescending Tempers and manners be employed and particularly instructed while they prosecute their Object steadily to use every soothing Art possible.

A high Tone of Conduct will as it did in a former Instance revolt the People against the Measure altogether and produce a Suppression of it. I have the honor to be &c.,

Thomas Jefferson

FC (Vi); John Walker was probably the bearer of the (missing) RC of this letter (see Walker to TJ, 30 May). Enclosures (missing): (1) eight impress warrants, one of which was transmitted by Thomas Nelson to Colonel Josiah Parker on 8 June 1781; it was signed by TJ, dated at Charlottesville on 28 May 1781, executed in blank, and authorized the holder to “impress in the counties contiguous to the march of the enemy such and so many horses as the Honble Major General Marquis Fayette shall direct, following … the sense and intention of the House of Delegates expressed in their resolutions of this date as amended and hereto annexed” (VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893- description ends , xxii [1914], 261). (2) Resolutions of the House as noted below (same, p. 261–2; MS in Vi).

Your favor of the 26th: This is undoubtedly the letter that Constable wrote TJ on 26 May, part of which was Constable’s fair copy of Lafayette’s rough draft. one of the day before from Colo. John Walker: Walker’s letter to TJ of 25 May has not been found, but its subject is apparent from the present letter and from the action taken on it by the House of Delegates. On May 28 the “Speaker communicated to the House a letter from John Walker, Esq. addressed to his excellency the Governor, containing information respecting the enemy, and stating the desire of the honorable Major General Marquis de La Fayette on the subject of impressing horses.” This letter was referred to a committee which reported at once and the following resolutions were agreed to by the House on the same day: that the Governor be advised to issue his warrant to Lafayette empowering him to impress in the counties contiguous to the march of the enemy all such horses as he should think necessary; that all such horses should be appraised in specie by two field officers and that this valuation should be paid in specie or “in paper money at the real exchange”; that impress warrants ought to be issued only to commissioned officers; that stud horses and others actually employed in moving the families or effects of the owners ought not to be impressed; and that Lafayette ought to be asked to have an exact return made giving names of owners, amount of valuation, and purposes for which impresses were made” (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1781, 1828 edn., p. 4–5). In view of the often-expressed view that TJ’s legalistic views and philosophical temperament unfitted him for the severely practical tasks of a war governor, two actions taken on 28 May are pertinent: (1) he issued warrants in accordance with the terms of the House’s resolution despite the fact that the Senate did not concur in that resolution until almost two weeks later (same, 12 June, p. 14); (2) he amended this resolution as follows: a MS copy of the resolution (Vi), attested by John Beckley, has the following notation in TJ’s hand: “By an amendment brood mares are not to be impressed unless the owner fails on reasonable notice to remove them out of the way of the enemy, in which case Stud horses are also to be subject to impresses. Th:J.” There is no record of such an amendment in the journals of the House and TJ’s notation is written at the bottom of Beckley’s attested copy; hence it is safe to assume that the amendment was by executive decision rather than by legislative action (VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893- description ends , xxii [1914], p. 261–2). Indeed, the present letter shows that “the other Branch of the Legislature,” the Senate, was not then in session and the form of TJ’s impress warrant (see above) shows that the resolution was “amended” on 28 May when he annexed a copy to each warrant. Here, as elsewhere throughout the governorship, TJ never forgot either that a war was being fought or that it was being fought by and for free men. But he recognized that “Necessity is Law, in times of war most especially,” as he wrote Matthew Pope on 21 May 1781, though even so he kept in view “the rights of the citizen on the one hand and necessities of war on the other” (see TJ to the speaker of the House, 28 May). A high tone of conduct … in a former instance: This was a delicate warning to Lafayette not to yield to the temptations that had ensnared Greene and Steuben and had helped to defeat their efforts to obtain cavalry horses. Lafayette’s need was desperate, as theirs had been, but the fact that such a warning was necessary could not have been more dramatically underscored than by the remarkable coincidence that, on this same day, Lafayette was being used by the same individual who, more than any other, had caused most of the difficulty in the “former Instance” and whose “high Tone of Conduct” toward TJ had earned him a reprimand by Congress—Col. Anthony Walton White (see Vol. 3: 587; TJ to White, 24 Mch. 1781; and White’s haughty reply, 5 Apr. 1781). For the letter that Lafayette wrote TJ on this day was not only not couched in his usual friendly style, but was a rather imperious demand. It was signed by Lafayette, but the handwriting—and probably the choice of words—was that of Col. White himself, a fact whose full implications could not have been known to Lafayette but which were in all probability not lost on TJ, for he had dealt with that blustery cavalryman under Gates, under Greene, and under Steuben. Nevertheless, TJ complied with Lafayette’s request concerning arms and accoutrements (TJ to the county lieutenants of Powhatan, &c. 31 May). The damaged arms: TJ obtained his figures of the number that could be repaired from David Ross (see Ross to TJ, 26 May). Steuben, who by the middle of May had lost all interest in remaining in Virginia and was, as he wrote Greene, “heartily disgusted at the Conduct and proceedings in this Quarter” (Steuben to Greene, 14 May 1781, NHi), was engaged in making more than habitually harsh criticism of Virginia. What he had actually said to Lafayette was this: “I cannot flatter you with hopes of another supply [of arms]. However astonishing it may be, it is true that only two men have been employed by the State for the reparation of arms since January. At present there are six added to them from the Battalion of Continental troops which are here [at Point of Fork]. This shamefull neglect I have acquainted Government with, but scarcely hope for an amendment” (Dft, Steuben to Lafayette, 22 May 1781, NHi). This was manifestly untrue and was not altogether fair to Lafayette, besides being quite unfair to Steuben’s loyal supporter, Col. Davies. For, since Steuben already had Greene’s permission to join him in South Carolina and was waiting only for arms to be given to the drafted men then assembling at Albemarle barracks, he was reluctant to send even the 327 arms that went with his letter of 22 May and therefore said nothing about the 1,100 stand of arms that arrived at Albemarle Old Courthouse on the very day that he wrote Lafayette. While Steuben was making this criticism of the government, his friend Davies was writing him as follows on the same day from Charlottesville: “I am also taking measures for sending down the 1100 stand of arms which have just arrived from Philadelphia. From a conviction that the interests of the state and continent are inseparably connected, I had directed all the state gun-smiths to work upon the continental arms, and I flatter myself you must have seen with satisfaction the hands that are employed in that business at the point of fork. As I arrived here last evening, I have not yet seen the Governor, but shall immediately forward the arms down to the fork to be given to the men. … My horses being much fatigued and reduced with constant riding will unavoidably make it the afternoon of tomorrow before I can reach you, in case I should still be required to attend you” (Davies to Steuben, 22 May 1781, NHi).

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