George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Sullivan, 25 November 1780

To John Sullivan

Hd Qrs Passaic Falls Novr 25th 1780.

Dr Sir,

This letter will be presented to you by the Chevr De Chatteleaux A Majr Genl in the French Service—A Gentn of polite & easy manners, and of literary as well as military abilities.1

I intended in my last (but having Spun my letter to an enormous length deferred it)2 to have observed that as3 Congress had made one or two late promotions from Brigadiers to Major Generals apparently on the principle of a state-proportion (which by the way, if made a general rule I am persuaded will be found hurtful). An idea has occurred to me, that possibly from the same principle on a future occasion, one might take place which would be particularly injurious—I mean with respect to General Knox—Generals Parsons &4 Clinton have5 been superseded by Smallwood—Parson’s is since restored to his Rank.6 Except Clinton Knox now stands first on the list—If from the consideration I have mentioned—or from his being at the head of the artillery he should be overlooked, and a younger officer preferred, he will undoubtedly quit the service; and you know his usefulness too well not to be convinced this would be an injury difficult to be repaired—I do not know all things considered, who could replace him in his department. I am sure if a question of this kind should be agitated when you were present, this intimation would be unnecessary to induce you to interpose; but lest you should be absent at the time, I think it would be adviseable to apprise some other members in whom you have confidence to guard against it—for7 sores occd by irregular promotions or mistakes, tho they may afterwards receive a plaister does not always meet a cure but proves that inattention or want of information was the cause of the wound.8

If the sentiments containd in my Letter to Congress of this date respecting the Inspectorate department are happy enough to coincide with yours I have no doubt of your giving them a proper support9—To me it appears a matter of importance to keep the present Inspectors in Office—and sure I am, that it is the true interest & policy of Congress to make these Offices more the object of desire by the Officers who fill them than of favor from them—in the one case the duties will be discharged properly—In the other they may be slighted or not executed at all. The10 additional pay necesy to make it adeq[uat]e to the trouble & confinemt incident to the Office would be Very trifling—& the future one nothing as they will not burthen the half pay list, being Officers in the line & receiving their pay accordingly & no other.11 With great esteem & regd, I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obt Ser.

G. W——n

ADfS, with a significant portion in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. For evidence that the recipient’s copy of this letter was dated 26 Nov., see n.9 below.

1Major General Chastellux was then visiting GW (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 27 Nov., and n.1). Chastellux reached Philadelphia on 30 Nov. and remained in the city or vicinity until 16 Dec. (see Chastellux, Travels in North America description begins Marquis de Chastellux. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Translated and edited by Howard C. Rice, Jr. 2 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1963. description ends , 1:129–83).

3GW’s writing ends with this word.

4GW added the “s” to “Generals” and wrote “Parsons &” above the line.

5GW changed “had” to “have” by writing over the final letter.

6GW interlineated the previous six words. For the promotions to major general of William Smallwood and Samuel Holden Parsons, see Huntington to GW, 16 Sept., and n.1 to that document, and 26 Oct., n.2; see also Parsons to GW, 4 Oct., and General Orders, 29 Oct., and n.2 to that document.

7GW’s writing resumes with this word.

8GW initially ended this sentence differently: “always heal the sore but proves that inattention or want of information preponderated in the first Instance appointments.”

9GW refers to his letter to Huntington dated 26 Nov. (see also the source note above).

10At this place on his draft, GW first wrote “proper expence under an adequate allowance will be,” and then struck out these words in favor of the eventual phrasing to complete his thought.

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