George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Gordon, 26 October 1780

From William Gordon

Jamaica Plain [Mass.] Octr 26. 1780

My Dear Sir

I congratulate your Excellency with the utmost sincerity upon the late discovery of Arnolds treachery. This is the second time, that Heaven has prevented the enemy’s ruining us by secret attempts. While the baseness & villainy of individuals, who had been greatly confided in, must tend to discourage, the special remarkable interpositions of Providence preventing the execution of their wicked plans must hearten you beyond measure.1

Our public affairs have been strangely neglected; but the sentiments of people appear to be altering, & I am in hopes that some effectual measures will be taken to procure a sufficient standing army & to provide for & pay the same properly, that so our cause may not be lost for want of it. Dr Cooper in his sermon yesterday upon occasion of the election, failed not to take notice of it to the General Court.2 The prints will inform you that Mr Hancock is governor. The Lt Governor will be chosen by the General Court, as no one had the majority of the peoples votes. Mr Bowdoin will most probably be elected, & I am not without expectation that he will accept.3 This State I can’t but suppose will act much better for the common cause than has been the case of late. Reforms must take place, or we have small ground for promising ourselves either a speedy or honorable peace. Your Excellency has not met with due support, answerable to the engagements the United States have laid themselves under to you, but the greater has been your patriotism in continuing to serve them. Your firmness, perseverance & influence have kept us from ruin. The time is coming, I flatter myself, when You will have an army together early enough to begin the campai⟨gn w⟩ith offensive operations. What discoveries to our hurt the enemy may have made by the capture of the mail, it is impossible I should conjecture; but considering the season of the year, there may be an opportunity of preventing the greatness of the injury that might be occasioned by it otherwise.

Our friend Col. Sears is labouring to convince persons, that our plans must be changed, & that we must pursue a different line of conduct, do we mean to be successful. What he says & the letters he communicated have weight with several: but others will not see, & pretend that there is no danger, even tho’ the enemy should take West Point; for then we should rouze. It is strange how weakly some men will argue, & yet we cannot impute their talk to bad intentions.4 Would your Excellency favour me with a free letter, setting forth the state & sufferings of the army, the number it should consist of, what should be done to make them comfortable, & the eminent danger of neglecting or delaying to do it, which I might communicate to friends in & out of the General Court, it would I am persuaded answer a good end. The esteem the public have for & the confidence they place in you, would impel them to exertions: but the letters wrote in an official way are not so known out of doors, by the people at large, as should be: & it is too much the case, that the people within have their own selfish views & study to ease or serve their electors rather than the common cause. Besides a private letter in the way of friendship might have a different cast & be viewed in another light than a public one, & therefore have the greater weight. Many suppose that persons declare their mind more fully in the former than the latter. I am desirous of promoting the public good, & therefore have wrote as above, & not from any doubt of the truth of the representations made by other gentlemen in the army. Their names give weight to their private informations: your Excellency’s would add greatly.5 Mrs Gordon joins in wishing you all desirable blessings, & in praying to be remembered to your Lady. Your Excellency’s sincere Friend & most humble Servant

William Gordon

ALS, DLC:GW. Gordon addressed the cover to GW as “Generalissimo of the American Forces.”

1See The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note.

Gordon had written Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates from Jamaica Plain on 5 Oct.: “We have had a narrow escape, thro’ the seasonable discovery of Arnold’s treachery. What a villain! He has consigned himself to eternal infamy; But what will not a man do, that is given up to covetousness and places his summum bonum in money! Put not your confidence in men” (“Letters of William Gordon,” description begins “Letters of the Reverend William Gordon: Historian of the American Revolution, 1770–1799.” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 63 (1929–30): 303–613. description ends 439–41, quote on 440).

2See Samuel Cooper, A Sermon Preached Before His Excellency John Hancock, Esq; Governour, The Honourable The Senate, and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, October 25, 1780. Being the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution, and Inauguration of the new Government [Boston, 1780]. Cooper related in the latter portion of his sermon: “Peace, peace, we ardently wish; but not upon terms dishonourable to ourselves, or dangerous to our liberties; and our enemies seem not yet prepared to allow it upon any other. At present the voice of providence, the call of our still invaded country, and the cry of every thing dear to us, all unite to rouze us to prosecute the war with redoubled vigour; upon the success of which all our free constitutions, all our hopes depend. …

“We have depended too much upon partial measures, temporary expedients, short and interrupted efforts made only upon the spur of the occasion. An army established in proper numbers, for the whole duration of the war, and seasonably furnished with all necessary supplies, is now universally acknowledged of the utmost consequence to the liberties of America. Particular attention will certainly be paid to the recommendations of this great object from the Commander in chief—that illustrious man, formed by heaven for the important trust he sustains, and to draw to a point the confidence of these free states, and a patriotic army. Part of the gladness of this day rises from the general expectation, that our new government will give new vigour to the measures necessary to this momentous purpose; that these measures will be instantly pursued, and without that delay we have too much experienced in times past; and which, at this season, must prove greatly distressing, if not fatal to our country” (pp. 45–46).

3James Bowdoin declined his selection as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, which went instead to Thomas Cushing.

4The Royal Gazette (New York) for 4 Nov. 1780 printed items seized from the mail. Among the intercepted letters presented in that issue was one from GW’s aide-decamp Alexander Hamilton to Isaac Sears, written at Preakness on 12 Oct., thanking his correspondent for reporting “the same species of indifference to public affairs” in Boston. Hamilton called for “a government with more power: We must have a tax in kind … We must, above all things, have an army for the war, and on an establishment that will interest the officers in the service. …

“Clinton is now said to be making a considerable detachment to the southward. My fears are high; my hopes low” (see also Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:472–73; GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Oct., n.2; and Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., to GW, 27 Oct.).

5GW apparently did not reply (see Gordon to GW, 28 Feb.–1 March 1781, DLC:GW).

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