George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Duane, 4 October 1780

To James Duane

Hd Qrs Tappan 4th Octr 1780.

I thank you My Dear Sir for your letter of the 19th of Sepr. I should have been happy in the information you give m⟨e⟩ that some progress had been made in the business of raising a permanent army had it not been intimated to me through other channels that in the resolutions framed on this article, the fatal alternative of, for one year has been admitted.1 In my letter to Congress of the 20th of August I recommend a draft for the war or for three years; and say “a shorter period than one year is inadmissible”2 You will perceive however, that the general scope of my arguments looks to an army for the war—and any other idea crept in from an apprehension that this plan would not go down. The present juncture is in my opinion pecluliarly favourable to a permanent army, and I regret that an opening is given for a temporary one. It also gives me pain to find that the pernicious state system is still adhered to by leaving the reduction incorporation &c. of the regiments to the particular states3—This is one of the greatest evils of our affairs.

I share with you the pleasure you feel from the measures taking to strengthen the hands of Congress. I am convinced it is essential to our safety that Congress should have an efficient power. The want of it must ruin us.

The satisfaction I have in any successes that attend us or even in the alleviation of misfortunes is always allayed; by a fear that it will lull us into security—Supineness and a disposition to flatter ourselves seem to make parts of our national character—when we receive a check and are not quite undone, we are apt to fancy we have gained a victory; and when we do gain any little advantage, we imagine it decisive and expect the war is immediately to end. The history of the war is a history of false hopes and temporary expedients—Would to God they were to end here! This Winter, if I am not mistaken, will open a still more embarrassing scene than we have yet experienced to the Southward—I have little doubt should we not gain a naval superiority, that Sir Henry Clinton will detach to the southward to extend his conquests. I am far from being satisfied that we shall be prepared to repel his attempts.

Reflections of this kind to you My Dr Sir, are unnecessary; I am convinced you view our affairs on the same scale that I do, and will exert yourself to correct our errors and call forth our resources.

The interview at Harford produced nothing conclusive, because neither side knew with certainty what was to be expected. We could only combine possible plans on the supposition of possible events; and engage mutually to do every thing in our powers against the next campaign.4

Happy to rank you among the number of my friends I speak to you with confidence5—With the truest esteem and regard I am Dr Sir Yr most Obedt St

G. Washington

DfS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW wrote the dateline on the draft.

3For GW’s influence on Continental army reform, see Huntington to GW, 26 Oct., n.1.

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