George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 24 September 1778

From Major General Lafayette

Camp Near Warren [R.I.] 24 September [1778]

My dear general

I am going to Consult your excellency upon a point in which I not only want your leave and opinion as the Commander in chief, but also your Candid advice as the man whose I have the happiness to be the friend—in an adress from the British Commissaries to Congress, the first one after jonhstone was excluded, they speack in the most di[s]respectfull terms of my Nation, and Country—the whole is undersign’d by them and more particularly by the president lord Carlisle1—I am the first french officer in Rank of the american army, I am Not unknown to the British, and if Somebody must take Notice of Such expressions, that advantage does, I believe, belong to me—do’nt you think, my dear general, that I schould do well, to write a letter on the Subject to lord Carlisle, where I Should Notice2 his expressions in an unfriendly manner—I have mentionn’d some thing of that design to the Count d’estaing but want intirely to fix my opinion by yours which I instantly beg as soon as you will find it Convenient.3

As every thing is perfectly quiet, and general Sullivan is persuad’d that I may with all Safety go to boston, I am going to undertake a schort journey towards that place—the admiral has Several times express’d a desire of Conversing with me—he has also thrown out some wishes that some thing might be done towards Securing Boston, but it seems he alwaïs Refers to a Conversation for further explanation—my Stay will be Schort as I do’nt like towns in time of war when I may be about a Camp—if your excellency answers me soon I may Soon Receive your letter soon.4

I want much to See you, my dear general, and Consult You about many points, part of them are respecting myself—if you approuve of my writing to lord Carlisle it would be a Reason of Coming Near you for Some instants in case the gentleman is displeas’d with my adress.5 With the most perfect Respect, Confidence, and affection I have the honor to be My dear general Your most obedient Servant

the Marquis de lafayette

ALS, PEL. After the war Lafayette edited this and other letters he wrote to GW during the war, sometimes altering, inserting, or omitting words to clarify meaning and sometimes obliterating entire passages. The original text has been restored where possible; see notes 2 and 4.

1Lafayette is referring to the British peace commissioners’ manifesto of 26 Aug., in which the French alliance is portrayed as an “unnatural connection” involving the Americans with “a power that has ever shewn itself an enemy to all civil and religious liberty.” France, the commissioners contended, wanted “to prolong this destructive war” and to make the American colonies “the instruments of her ambition,” and when all the facts were considered, they said, “the designs of France, the ungenerous motives of her policy, and the degree of faith due to her professions, will become too obvious to need any farther illustration” (Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 12 Sept.). George Johnstone did not sign this manifesto with his fellow commissioners, because of Congress’s refusal to deal with him stemming from his clumsy attempt to bribe a member of Congress.

2The words “Should Notice” were added later, written over original manuscript text that can no longer be read.

3Lafayette made it clearer in his letter to d’Estaing of 13 Sept. on this subject that his purpose in writing Carlisle would be to challenge him to a public duel over the alleged aspersion that the peace commissioners had cast on France in their 26 Aug. manifesto. “It is a matter of the nation’s honor not to let it pass in silence,” Lafayette wrote d’Estaing. “Lord Carlisle is the president of those gentlemen. . . . I am going to write him a billet-doux and propose to him an exemplary correction in the sight of the British and American armies. I have nothing very interesting to do here, and even while killing Lord Carlisle, I can make some more important arrangements at White Plains. I flatter myself that General Washington will not disapprove of this proposal, and I am sure that it will have a good effect in America” (Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 2:182, n.2).

4Lafayette later changed this sentence to read: “if your excellency answers me immediately I may soon Receive your letter.”

5For GW’s reply, see his letter to Lafayette of 4 Oct.; see also d’Estaing to GW, 25 Sept., 20 Oct., and GW to d’Estaing, 2, 24 October. For Lafayette’s letter to Carlisle of 5 Oct. from Fishkill proposing a duel, and Carlisle’s reply to Lafayette of 11 Oct. refusing to be drawn into a duel, see Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 2:187–89; see also Lafayette to GW, 24 Oct., and GW to d’Estaing, 31 October.

Index Entries