George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 18 April 1778

To Henry Laurens

Valley Forge April 18th 1778


On Thursday evening I had the Honor to receive your Two Letters of the 14th Instant.1

I am much obliged by the fresh assurances, which Congress are pleased to make me of their confidence, and they may be satisfied, that I wish nothing more ardently, than that a good and perfect agreement should subsist between us.

The negociation between the Commissioners is ended, without effecting a Cartel. Nor do I suppose from the information I have received on the subject, there is any good prospect, that one will ever be formed, or at least for a great while, on a liberal and an extensive plan. A report of the proceedings of the Commissioners, on our part, at their several meetings, I take the liberty to inclose. The Papers No. 1. contain the letters between General Howe & myself stipulating the neutrality of German Town—our Respective powers—and the result of the meeting there.2 No. 2 the subsequent proceedings at Newtown.3 The old agreement, I presume, continues, and under it we must carry on exchanges.4

General Muhlenberg has communicated his determination to resign, but has promised not to leave his Brigade, till Congress shall appoint another General in his room, provided it is done in any reasonable time.5

By postponing my call upon the Militia as mentioned in my last of the 10th, I did not mean to decline it altogether. I did not see the necessity of calling out 5000 for the sole purpose of defence; and in the present situation of things, I cannot perceive my way sufficiently clear for offensive measures, as I do not know when to expect the Recruits from the different States—nor what prospect the Commissary has of Provision. As we only get it yet from hand to mouth, assembling the Militia, unless for the purpose of defence, should be the last thing done, as they soon become impatient, and are very expensive in the articles of stores, Camp utensils, Provisions &c.

The inclosed Draught of a Bill, was brought to Head Quarters Yesterday afternoon by a Gentleman, who informed me, that a large Cargoe of them had been just sent out of Philadelphia. Whether this insidious proceeding is genuine and imported in the Packet, which arrived a few days ago, or contrived in Philadelphia is a point undetermined & immaterial; but it is certainly founded in principles of the most wicked and diabolical baseness, meant to poison th⟨e⟩ minds of the people & detach the wavering, at least, from our cause. I suppose it will obtain a place in the papers, and am not without anxiety, that it will have a malignant influence. I would submit it, whether it will not be highly expedient for Congress to investigate it, in all its parts—and to expose, in the most striking manner, the injustice—delusion and fraud it contains. I trust it will be attacked in every shape in every part of the Continent.6 I have the Honor to be With the greatest respect Sir Your most Obet Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed in part: “read 20. referred to Mr G. Morris Mr Drayton Mr Dana” (see 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 , 10:367).

GW also wrote a second, private letter to Laurens on this date: “The Gazettes herewith inclosed, if you have not already been furnished with others of as late date, may afford you some amusement, & therefore I take the liberty of sending them,” adding in a postscript, “Among the many villainous arts practiced by the Enemy to create divisions and distrust, that of forging Letters for me is one” (ALS, PHi: Dreer Collection).

1The preceding Thursday was 16 April.

2See William Howe to GW, 27 Mar., GW to Howe, 29 Mar., GW’s Grant of Authority to the Commissioners for Prisoner Exchange, 28 Mar., Howe to British Commissioners for Prisoner Exchange, 5 Mar. (DNA:PCC, item 169), and the Commissioners for Prisoner Exchange to GW, 4 April.

4For the “old agreement,” see GW to Howe, 30 July 1776, and Howe to GW, 1 Aug. 1776.

5Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg may have communicated these sentiments orally, as no letter to this effect has been identified. His decision almost certainly arose out of the dispute about rank among Virginia generals (see Muhlenberg to GW, 10 April, and GW to Muhlenberg, same date). Muhlenberg remained in the army until the end of the war.

6On 14 April, Gen. William Howe ordered two draft bills, which had been brought before Parliament in mid-February, published in Philadelphia. The first bill declared: “Whereas the exercise of the right of taxation by the parliament of Great-Britain, for the purpose of raising a revenue in his majesty’s colonies, provinces, and plantations in North-America, has been found by experience to occasion great uneasinesses and disorders, and has by sundry misrepresentations been made the means of misleading many of his majesty’s faithful subjects, who yet acknowledge the justice of contributing to the common defence of the empire, provided such contributions should be raised under the authority of the general court, or general assembly, of each respective colony, province or plantation: And whereas, in order as well as to remove the said uneasinesses, and to quiet the minds of his majesty’s subjects, who may be disposed to return to their allegiance, as to restore the peace and welfare of all his majesty’s dominions, it is expedient to declare, that the king and parliament of Great-Britain will not impose any duty, tax, or assessment, for the purpose of raising a revenue within any of the said colonies, provinces, or plantations: ... after the passing of this act, the king and parliament of Great-Britain will not impose any duty, tax, or assessment whatsoever, payable within any of his majesty’s colonies, provinces, and plantations in North-America, except only such duties as it may be expedient to impose for the regulation of commerce, the net-produce of such duties to be always paid and applied to and for the use of the colony, province, or plantation, in which the same shall be respectively levied, in such manner as other duties collected by the authority of the respective general courts, or general assemblies, of such colonies, provinces, or plantations, are ordinarily paid and applied” (Pennsylvania Evening Post, 15 April; see also Royal Pennsylvania Gazette, 17 April, and Pennsylvania Ledger, 18 April).

The second bill proposed “to enable his majesty to appoint commissioners with sufficient powers to treat, consult and agree upon the means of quieting the disorders now subsisting in certain of the colonies, plantations, and provinces of North America.” In order to quiet the “divers jealousies and misapprehensions of danger to their liberties and legal rights, which have misled many of his majesty’s subjects in the colonies,” the commissioners were to be empowered “to treat, consult, and agree, with such body or bodies political and corporate, or with such assembly or assemblies of men, or with such person or persons, as in their wisdom and discretion they shall think meet, of and concerning any grievances, or complaints of grievances, existing, or supposed to exist, in the government of any of the said colonies, provinces, or plantations, respectively, or in the laws and statutes of this realm, respecting the same; and of or concerning any aid or contribution to be furnished by all or any of the colonies, provinces, or plantations, respectively, for the common defence of this realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging; and of and concerning such other regulations, provisions, matters, and things, as upon mature deliberation of the said commissioners ... shall be thought necessary or convenient for the honor of his majesty, and the common good of all his subjects.

“Provided ... That no regulation, provision, matter or thing so proposed, treated, consulted, or agreed, shall have any other force or effect, or be carried farther into execution, than is hereinafter mentioned and provided, until the same shall have been approved by parliament.”

The commissioners were further authorized “to order and proclaim a cessation of hostilities, on the part of his majesty’s troops, in any of the said colonies or plantations, or any part thereof, for any time, and under any conditions or restrictions, which they shall think convenient, and such order and proclamation to revoke and annul in the same manner and form, according to their discretion”; to suspend operation of the act of Parliament “for prohibiting all trade and intercourse with certain colonies and plantations” and to revoke that suspension at their discretion; “to suspend in such places, and for such times as they shall think fit, during the continuance of this act, the operation and effect of” any act of Parliament or provision thereof relating to the North American colonies passed since 10 Feb. 1763, “so far as the same does relate to them”; to grant pardons; and to appoint governors or commanders in chief for any of the colonies. This act was to continue in force until June 1779 (ibid.).

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