George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Richard Henry Lee, 10 August 1778

To Richard Henry Lee

White plains Augt 10th 1778.

Dear Sir,

A few days ago I received your favor of the 26th Ulto, inclosing one from Colo. Spotswood, for which I thank you.1 The reputation which this Gentn had acquired, of being an attentive Officer and good disciplinarian, was justly founded; and I considered his leaving the Army a loss to the Service. The supposed death of his Brother, it is natural to believe, had a painful influence upon his mind—but he had long before been very uneasy in his situation, on acct of the determination in the case between him and Colo. McLanahan (and I am perswaded was only prevented from quitting the line in consequence, throˆ my means).2

My regard for Colo. Spotswood, and the opinion I entertain of him as an Officer, would induce me to interest myself in his favor, whereever I could with propriety—In the present instance however I cannot, because I think I shd do an injury to the Officers of the Virga line (if not to those of the line at large) and because I am convinced his promotion would excite infinite discontents and produce many resignations.

When he left Camp in the Month of October, he made a surrender of his Commission to me according to the then prevailing custom. This was accepted—and a new arrangement took place among the field Officers. After this I could not suppose him to continue in the line—and to attempt to recall the rise of the Officers, to give him a place again, would be to attempt an impossibility. No reasoning upon the subject would be sufficient to get them to consent to it.

With respect to the report of the Board of General Officers to which you allude you will excuse me when I say, in my opinion, it will not apply. The case there was, that sundry inferior Officers, or juniors of the same rank, from local circumstances, and the oppertunities of application, obtained from the Committees, or Councils of the States in whom the power of appointing Officers to the Army for 1777 was vested, new Commissions prior in date to those granted afterwards to their Seniors—and in consequence claimed a right to rank before them. The Board determined their claims unjust and, that the rank which the Officers immediately held before their new Commissions should govern, as it did not appear that the Councils intended to supercede the Senior Officers3—But here, there had been no interruption or relinquishment of the right to rank by resignation—surrender of Commission—or any other act of the Parties. Nor could I ever think, that Colo. Spotswood had cause to complain of the decision on the point in question between him and Colo. McClanahan. It was founded on the practice, which had commonly prevailed—I believe universally, in like cases—viz.—that when state Officers became Continental they should rank, with respect to each other, according to their state precedence. This principle appeared to be just, and I am certain, was the only one that could be adopted to give general satisfaction. As many of our Regiments in the first instance, and particularly those from virginia, were raised by the States without any order by Congress, a contrary rule would have involved great inconveniencies—& would have proved an effectual bar to many valuable Officers coming into Service.

I have not the most distant suspicion that Colo. Spotswood is influenced in his wishes, upon the present occasion, in the smallest degree by any considerations arising from the half pay establishment—I am convinced that he is not—Nor do I believe that any Officer will impute a matter of the sort to him—or object to his being reintroduced into the line from motives of personal dislike—they will oppose it as an injury to their rights.

I thank you much for your congratulations. The prospect we have before us is certainly pleasing, and such as promises a glorious and happy issue to all our struggles. Success in the intended enterprize against Rhode Island, wd operate powerfully, I should suppose, upon the minds of the British Nation, and bring matters to a speedy conclusion.4 I wait impatiently to hear from thence. I am Dr Sir Yr most Obedt H. Ser.

Go: Washington

ALS, PPAmP: Correspondence of Richard Henry Lee and Arthur Lee; DfS, DLC: GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The draft and the Varick transcript are dated 9 Aug., but a docket on the draft reads, “10th Augt 1778.”

1Lee’s letter of 26 July has not been found; for the enclosure, see Alexander Spotswood to GW, 16 July.

2The decision that Col. Alexander McClanachan outranked Spotswood was made by a board of general officers on 9 July 1777. For GW’s response to Spotswood’s request for a reconsideration, see his letter to Spotswood of 13 Aug. 1777.

3GW was evidently referring to the report of 19 Aug. 1777 by a board of general officers appointed to settle the ranks of the Continental officers of the Pennsylvania line (see General Orders, 17 Aug. 1777, n.4).

4On the draft, which is otherwise in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, the remaining text is in GW’s writing.

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