George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Joseph Reed, 20 November 1780

To Joseph Reed

Head Qrs [Passaic Falls] 20th Novr 1780

Dear Sir,

Your favor of the 15th is just come to hand1—I cannot suffer myself to delay a moment in pronouncing if Arnold by the words (in his letter to his wife) “I am treated with the greatest politeness by General Washington and the Officers of the Army who bitterly execrate Mr Reed and the Council for their villainous attempt to injure me” meant to comprehend me in the latter part of the expression that he asserted an absolute falsehood.2

It was at no time my inclination, much less my intention to become a party in his cause—and I certainly could not be so lost ⟨to my own character as to become a partizan at the moment I was called upon, Officially to bring him to tryal—I am not less mistaken, if he has not extended the former part of the paragraph a little too far. True it is he self envited some civilities I never meant to shew him (or any Officer in Arrest)—and he received rebuke before I could convince him of the impropriety of his entering upon a justification of his conduct in my presence—& for bestowing such illiberal abuse as he seem’d disposed to do, upon those whom he denominated his persecutors. Although you have done me the justice to disbelieve Arnolds assertions to his Wife, a3 regard to my own feelings & character claims a declaration of the falsehood of it.4 from Dr Sir—Yr Most Obedt & Affecte Hble Servt

Go: Washington⟩

AL (incomplete), RPJCB; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Material in angle brackets is taken from GW’s draft.

1Reed’s letter to GW dated 15 Nov. has not been found.

2The quote comes from Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s letter to his then fiance, Margaret Shippen, written at “Camp at Raritan” on 8 Feb. 1779. Arnold also wrote: “Never did I so ardently long to see or hear from you as at this instant. … I daily discover so much baseness and ingratitude among mankind that I almost blush at being of the same species, and could quit the stage without regret was it not for some gentle, generous souls like my dear Peggy, who still retain the lively impression of their Maker’s image, and who, with smiles of benignity and goodness, make all happy around them. Let me beg of you not to suffer the rude attacks on me to give you one moment’s uneasiness; they can do me no injury. I am treated with the greatest politeness by General Washington and the officers of the army, who bitterly execrate Mr. Reed and the Council for their villanous attempt to injure me” (Arnold, Benedict Arnold description begins Isaac N. Arnold. The Life of Benedict Arnold; His Patriotism and His Treason. Chicago, 1880. description ends , 230–31; see also Jacob and Case, Treacherous Beauty description begins Mark Jacob and Stephen H. Case. Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, the Woman behind Benedict Arnold’s Plot to Betray America. Guilford, Conn., 2012. description ends , 85–91, and n.4 below).

Reed probably found this letter after seizing the general’s papers located in Philadelphia earlier in fall 1780 (see The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note).

3GW wrote the remainder of his draft and complimentary closing in the left margin on the first page of his draft. This material presumably replaced a struck-out paragraph on the verso of his draft: “I shall take another occasion to speak of the contents of Genl Schuyler’s Letter to Arnold—from my best recollection of a recurrence to circumstances about the first of June, I am perswaded that my last letter on this subject not only contained the substance, but the identical answer which was given by me, to the application—It is possible I may have said, that I looked upon Genl Arnold as a brave and enterprizing Officer” (see also Philip Schuyler to Arnold, 2 June, found at Robert R. Livingston to GW, 22 June, n.3; and GW to Reed, 18 Oct.).

4Reed and the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council had provoked Arnold’s court-martial for malfeasance while he served as military commander of Philadelphia. Congress confirmed Arnold’s conviction, and GW subsequently promulgated Arnold’s reprimand in qualified language. The entire incident enraged Arnold (see GW to Reed, 4 Dec. 1779, and n.2 to that document; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 11 March 1780, and n.3 to that document, and General Orders, 6 April 1780).

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