George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Mathews, 15 September 1780

From John Mathews

Philadelphia septr 15: 1780

My Dear sir

I had the pleasure of receiving your favor of the 9th inst. by Dr Craig, two days ago.1

There is a New arrangement for the Medical department now before Congress, & nearly compleated, by which, there will be a very great reduction of Officers. By the new System there will be fifteen principal Officers to be elected by Congress, which I apprehend will be but too much influenced by that spirit which has given a well grounded alarm to the Gentlemen concerned. Evidently to evince how far such a disposition has already operated, The new Q.M.G. is allowed to hold his commission at the Board of War, in direct violation of a law of Congress, & which has been uniformly practised upon, (except a few instances of no importance) but to suffer a man to hold two Commissions of the first consequence under the United States, savors so strongly of an outrageous partiality, that I shall be surprised at nothing, that may hereafter happen.2

I have the pleasure of being acquainted with most of the Gentlemen mentioned by Yr Excellency. and know their worth, and no endeavours shall be wanting on my part, to promote their reistablishment, but I fear it will not be in my power to do them much service, for I find there is a decided party formed against the Committee that were at Camp, which I have reason seriously to dread, will be productive of no good to our public affairs.3 I owe much to the public but still I owe something to my self, & can never tamely suffer a set of miscreants to tryumph over me with impunity. regardless of our Characters as members of their own body, I find we are to be considered as Qr Masters &c. & lyable to equal insults, without the least pretentions to call such conduct in question, but I can assure them they will find me of a temper by no means calculated to answer their new fangled Dogmas.

Although I had heard a good deal, & seen something of the rancour of these Demagogues yet I never imagined it had risen to that height, I was made to feel it had done, on my resuming my seat in Congress. I took the first opportunity, Of going very largely into the State of our affairs, in order to found some propositions, which I made, but without allowing them to be worthy of a commitment; much less, of their consideration, they were in the lump rejected. However I have this consolation, to reflect, they were approved by those, whose disinterestedness, & Judgment, I have the best opinion of. Such an insult I never saw offered to any member of Congress before. It shews such a determined, & premeditated prejudice, as must inevitably lay me under the necessity of doing what I would wish most earnestly to avoid. I beg your pardon, sir, for detaining you so long on a subject relative to myself, but as my plan (abovementioned) was for the establishment of a permanent army, & the means of supporting the War, I thought it a subject you were so much interested in that it would not be unacceptable to you to know the result of my endeavours, & how little prospect I have of being farther useful to this end, for I suppose any future propositions of mine, will be immediately exploded, “as too strongly tinctured with those Army principles, which I had imbibed, whilst with them.” I cannot but think it hard, that a man who wishes to be useful, should be thus unjustly precluded from being so; however, I know the rectitude of my intentions, & can at all times retire to my own bosom for my justification, & whilst that monitor supports me, I shall continue to act my part, regardless of every contentious spirit.4

Your Excellency’s letter of the 20 Ulto has now been twenty four days in the hands of a Committee, I have repeatedly called for a report from them, but, by what I can find, little or nothing has been yet done upon it. This does not at all surprize me, & I dare say by the time the Committee, & Congress have done with it, the time will arrive, when the army ought to be in the field.5 This ruinous delay I wanted to prevent, by Congress taking up my propositions in the first instance, but by their not doing it, I may readily conclude, it militated too much against the plan they have in contemplation, & therefore, further conclude, it will not be such a one, as will in it’s operation, be effectual.6 This may look like arrogating too much to my self, but the event will prove, whether I am right, or not.7 I have the honor to be with the highest respct & Esteem Yr Excys most Obedt servt

Jno. Mathews


1James Craik evidently carried GW’s letter to Mathews dated 9 September.

2Congress adopted a resolution on 5 Aug. that allowed Timothy Pickering to continue on the Board of War but with “pay as a member thereof” suspended while he also served as quartermaster general (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 , 17:700; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 5 Aug., n.1). This resolution modified one passed on 18 Sept. 1776 (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 , 5:781).

3Mathews refers to the defunct Committee at Headquarters (see GW to Huntington, 28 Aug., n.5).

4New Hampshire delegate John Sullivan wrote fellow New Hampshire delegate Nathaniel Peabody on 8 Oct.: “I think your friend Mathe[w]s an honest & Sincere man, he is Joined with a number of us who are Determined to Eradicate party Spirit & Silence or at Lest Lessen the Influence of party men” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 16:164–65).

6Massachusetts delegate James Lovell sardonically described Mathews’s proposals advanced in the late summer for reforming the Continental army when he wrote fellow Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry on 20 Nov.: “That Gen. W——be and he is hereby fully authorized & empowered to carry into Executn. in the most compleat & ample manner such measures as shall appear to him best calculated for raising & bringing into the field on or before the 1st day of Janry next an Army of 25000 men to continue in the service of these united states during the present war with Great Britain, to provide arms ammunition, cloathing, military & hospital Stores & Camp Equipage of all Kinds … And he the said Gen. W——is by these presents required in the most speedy & effectual manner to carry compleatly & vigorously into execution the Powers & authorities hereby vested in him and to do all such other matters & things as shall appear to him necessary to promote the Wellfare of these united states, to draw on the Treasury of the United States for such Sums of money as shall be required to defray the Expences incurred in consequence of the powers to him delegated” (Smith, Letters to Delegates, 16:363–66, quotes on 364; see also Lovell to Gerry, 5 Sept., in Smith, Letters to Delegates, 16:20–21).

Index Entries