George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major Henry Lee, Jr., 2 September 1780

To Major Henry Lee, Jr.

Hd Qrs [Bergen County] Sepr 2d 1780.

Dr Sir,

Yours of the 31st Ulto was delivered to me yesterday—I never hear of the intended resignation of a good Officer without feeling pain—& shall be sorry for that of Captn McLean’s; but if he is resolved on the measure It is not in my power to prevt it.1

The same principle that actuates Captn McLean would occasion the resignation of half the Captains of the line, if it was to pervade the whole—for the case of this Gentleman, when stripped of its colouring and exposed in its natural form is simply this—His first appoin[t]ment as Captain was in one of the Additional Regiments, and by his own Acct (and as I know the fact to be) far from the oldest of that rank—had these Corps therefore been kept up, he could not by the constitution of them, have arrived to the rank he is now aiming at, till all the Capts. older than himself had been promoted. but it being found impossible under our Military system to support those Regiments, and equally so to introduce Captn McLean into the Delaware Battn without disturbg the quiet of the Offrs the expedient of annexing him to your Corps was adopted, to avoid difficulties—at the sametime that it would keep a good Officer in Service—The motives which induced this—the obvious views at the time (however they may have changed since) were too well known to you, & to him, to need explanation—In what then is he injured? Is it because his views have expanded, & he is not gratified in them? This would be a reason that could not stand the test of examination—Is it because some Junior Captains have obtained Majorities before him? let him look through the line of the Army & he will find hundreds still holding the commissions of Captain who are his Seniors in that line—Is it because he enlisted more Men than many others? Though this is praiseworthy I hope never to see it made the ladder to preferment; for we know from experience that some of the most worthless characters we ever had among us were the most successful recruiting Officers—In a word I see no injustice done Captn McLean—I see no cause of complaint that is not incidental to, & resulting from our Military constitution—I gave you my reasons against His promotion when you first moved the matter; & when afterwards the application was renewed at the Board of War & they requested my opinion on the matter I transmitted, to the best of my recollection, (for I have had no recurrence to papers) a copy of my letter to you to them.2 This is all the Agency I have had in the business—& this, unless circumstances shd produce a change of sentiment, I shd do again—I am with much truth & sincerity Yr Obedt Servt

Go: W——n

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote Lee on this date: “Mr Hogland, Brother of the Young fellow who inlisted into your Corps within a few days past, has been here to inform the General, that he is bound in a considerable sum of Money for the appearance of his Brother at some future Court in this state. This being the case, unless the Magistrate who possesses the Recognisance gives it up, Mr Hoglan will be liable to pay the whole penalty if his Brother does not appear at Court whenever he is called. The General therefore desires that if the Recognisance is not redelivered to Mr Hoglan—that You will, when he applies for it, deliver him to him that he may discharge himself, by carrying him to Court, from his Engagements” (DLC:GW).

1Lee had written GW on 31 Aug.: “It is with very great regret I enclose your Excellency Capt. McLanes letr to me soliciting leave to retire from the service. The public looses a Valuable servant, & I part with a gentleman of the first consequence to my corps” (ALS, DLC:GW). The enclosure was Capt. Allen McLane’s letter to Lee from Hackensack, N.J., dated 27 Aug.: “When I left my private concerns, and accepted of a Commission in the Army then collecting for the defence of America I had not the least doubt, but equal attention would be paid to my Rank by the Gentlemen Appointed to govern our affairs, and that I should be equally rewarded for my services, with the Gentlemen holding Commissions under the same Authority[.] My Attachment to the cause, in which my country is engaged, makes me lament, that in the course of almost five-years Service, I have experienced repeated instances of neglect towards me, when others having no just claim, have been promoted—In Jany 77 being appointed to a Captaincy I was promised, that if I was successfull in raising my quota I should be rewarded for such Service. In a few months, I Joined the Regt with Ninety men, raised at my own private expence, which money was not repaid, ’till it had depreciated twenty for one; when to my great suprize, I found myself among the junior Captains, although I had the largest Company. I thought this a grievance, and Complained, but without redress. Being determined to sacrafise my feelings in this one instance, rather than withdraw myself from the service I was so greatly attached to; I determined to submit to this injury, in hopes, that by a steady attention to my duty I should merit the Attention of our Rulers and be r[e]warded for my services. After two years, it pleased the Congress to derange the Regt I was joined to and annex me to another Regt, which was disagreable to the Officers. I was then provided for, by being annexed to your Corps. After serving till February last, I thought myself intitled to preferment, applied to Congress, for my command’s being augmented, which they were pleased to honour by adding two Companys more. I then, as I thought, with great propriety, expected a Majority which the board of War thought Altogether reasonable, But at the same time refered me to his Excellency General Washington, who when Applied to, refused my request. Whereupon I made myself easy, reflecting that his reason must be just, and at that time was not consistent with the cause I was ingaged in. On my joining you the other day, I found to my great surprize, that two Gent. were Appointed to the most respectable commands, with the ranks of Majors, and that I was still continued with three Company’s as Captain, when neither of those Gentlemen can have equal pretensions, neither for their Services, nor sacrafices in the cause; from which circumstances & reason above expressed, I think myself not only neglected, but greatly injured. Therefore, having no hope of redress, beg leave to quit a Service, to which, by a natural love for my Country, & five years service & experience, I was greatly Attached. Now Sir, I have to request, you’ll permit me to attend to the settlement of my Publick Accounts &c. and then retire from Service” (DLC:GW; see also James Duane to GW, 21 May).

2See GW to Duane, 5 June, and notes 1 and 2 to that document.

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