George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 24 July 1778

To Henry Laurens

Camp near White plains July the 24th 1778

⟨Dr Sir

I had yesterday the pleasure to receive your favor of the 18th Instant with the inclosure and packets, which you mentioned.

I should have been sorry, if you or Monsieur Gerard had found the smallest difficulty in recommending the packets for the Count D’Estaing to my care; and I am happy to inform you, that they will meet with a speedy and safe conveyance to him by an Officer, who has set off for Rhode Island.

It is very pleasing as well as interesting, to hear that prizes are already finding the way into the Delaware. The event seems the more agreable, as that Navigation but yesterday as it were, could scarcely contain the Enemy’s fleet and their numerous captures, which were constantly crouding in. Happy change! and I should hope, that the Two prizes which have entered will be succeeded by many more. The want of information on the one hand of philadelphia’s being evacuated, and the countenance which our Armed Vessels will derive from the French Squadron on our Coast, must throw several into our possession.

The second Epistle from the Commissioners, of which you have so obligingly favoured me with a Copy, strikes me in the same point of view that it did you.1 It is certainly puerile—and does not border a little on indecorum, nothwithstanding their professions of the regard they wish to pay to decency. It is difficult to determine, on an extensive scale, though part of their design is tolerably obvious, what the Gentlemen would be at. Had I the honor of being a Member of Congress, I do not know how I might feel upon the occasion; but it appears to me, the performance must be received with a sort of indignant pleasantry, on account of it’s manner on the one hand, and on the other as being truly typical of that confusion, in which their prince and nation are.

By the time this reaches you, I expect the Messieurs Nevilles will be in philadelphia. From the Certificates these Gentlemen have provided, if I may hazard a conjecture, they are in quest of promotion, particularly the Elder. How far their views may extend, I cannot determine; but I dare predict they will be sufficiently high. My present intention is to tell you, and with freedom I do it, that Congress can not be well too cautious on this head. I do not mean or wish, to derogate from the merit of Messieurs Nevilles. The opportunities I have had, will not permit me to speak decisively for, or against it. However, I may observe from a certificate, which I have seen, written by themselves, or at least by one of them & signed by Genl parsons probably through surprize or irresolution, that they are not bad, at giving themselves a good character;2 and I will further add, if they meet with any great promotion, I am fully convinced it will be illy borne by our own Officers; and that it will be the cause of infinite discontent. The ambition of these men (I do not mean of the Messieurs Nevilles in particular, but of the Natives of their Country and Foreigners in general) is unlimited & unbounded; and the singular in[s]tances of rank, which have been conferred upon them in but too many cases, have occasioned general disatisfaction and general complaint. The feelings of our own Officers have been much hurt by it, and their ardor and love for the service greatly damped. Should a like proceeding still be practised, it is not easy to say, what extensive murmurings and consequences may ensue. I will further add, that we have already a full proportion of Foreign Officers in our General Councils, and should their number be encreased, it may happen upon many occasions, that their voices may equal if not exceed the rest. I trust you think me so much a Citizen of the World, as to beleive that I am not easily warped or led away, by attachments merely local or American; Yet I confess, I am not entirely without ’em, nor does it appear to me that they are unwarrantable, if confined within proper limits. Fewer promotions in the foreign line, would have been productive of more harmony, and made our warfare more agreable to all parties. The frequency of them, is the source of jealousy and of disunion. We have many—very many deserving Officers, who are⟩ not opposed to merit wheresoever it is found, nor insensible of the advantages derived from a long Service in an experienced Army—nor to the principles of policy. Where any of these principles mark the way to Rank, I am perswaded, they yield a becoming and willing acquiescence; but where they are not the basis, they feel severely. I will dismiss the subject, knowing with you, I need not labour, either a case of justice or of policy. I am Dr Sir With sentiments of very warm regard & esteem Yr much obliged & Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. The Baron Steuben will also be in Phila. in a day or two. The ostensable cause for his going is to fix more certainly with Congress his duties, as Inspector General, which is necessary;3 However, I am disposed to beleive, the real one is, to obtain an actual command in the line as a Majr Genl; and he may urge a competition set up by Messr Neville for the Inspectors place, on this side the Hudson, and a denial by him of his the Baron’s authority, as an argument to effect it, and the granting him the Post as a mean of satisfying both.

I regard & esteem the Baron, as an assiduous—Intelligent & experienced Officer; but you may rely on it, if such is his view & he should accomplish it, we shall have the whole line of Brigadiers in confusion. They have said but little about his Rank as Majr General as he has not had an actual command over ’em; But when we marched from Brunswick, as there were but few Majr Generals & almost the whole of the Brigadiers engaged at the Court Martial either as Members or Witnesses, I appointed him protempore and so expressed it in orders, to conduct a Wing to the North River.4 This measure tho founded in evident necessity & not designed to produce to the Brigadiers the least possible injury, excited great uneasiness & has been the source of complaint. The truth is, we have been very unhappy in a variety of appointments, and our own ⟨Officers much injured. Their feelings from this cause have become extremely sensible, and the most delicate touch gives them pain. I write as a Friend, and therefore with freedom. The Baron’s services in the line he is in, can be singular, and the Testimonials he has already received are honorable. It will also be material to have the point of the Inspector Generalship, now in question, between him & Monsr Neville adjusted. The appointment of the latter it is said, calls him Inspector General in the Army commanded by Genl Gates, and under this, as I am informed, he denies any Subordination to the Baron and will not know him in his Official capacity. There can be but one head. Yrs


ALS, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., sale 2134, Manuscripts, etc., from the Collection of the Late Philip G. Straus, 23 Oct. 1962; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The sale catalog published only one page of the ALS; the text in angle brackets has been taken from the draft, which is in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing.

1For the letter from the British commissioners to Congress, 11 July, see Laurens to GW, 18 July, n.3.

2A copy of the certificate of Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons, dated 28 June, is in DNA:PCC, item 41.

4See General Orders, 2 and 5 July.

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