George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert R. Livingston, 8 January 1781

From Robert R. Livingston

ClerMount [estate, N.Y.]1 8th Jany 1781.

Dear Sir

While our governments are weak, & unsettled, so much depends upon the opinion of the people that It can not be improper for the principal director of the military force of the country to be intimately acqainted with the sentiments of its inhabitants, & the State of the country, at least so far as they may affect his resources. I therefore make no other appology for mentioning the discontents which are daily spreading in this State, than my fear that your Excellency should remain ignorant of them, or receive them from those who may perhaps view them less seriou[s]ly than they deserve. Your Excellency is sensible that the great burdens which the war imposed on this state, have hithero been borne with unexampled alacrity, while the army were regularly paid, & the staff departments furnished with money, the people could patiently submit to the restrictions which the wants of the army rendered it in some measure necessary to impose upon our commerce For tho’ it turned the ballance of trade with their neighbours against them, yet the money expended in the State enabled them to pay that ballance. But since this has ceased to be the case, & the troops & staff are without money, the few articles this State are obliged to purchase has deprived it of all its paper currentcy & the scarcity of paper keeping down the exchange has lead the specie after it. In this situation the people called upon for taxes, find them selves without the means of paying, And I am fully pirsuaded could the whole money of the State be collected it would not amount to £20,000. in specie or an equivalent in paper even at 40 for one. Wheat is at present the only currentcy of the country & the quantity of this is much less than the sanguine wishes of people have lead them to believe—When the Assesments are delivered (And they are daily coming in) many farmers in this part of the country will not have a sufficientcy left for the bread of their families, independant of what is necessary for the paymt of their mechanicks whom they have no other means of satisfying. tho’ I have some reason to believe that it has not fall’n quite so heavily elswhere. The low price of wheat may be considered as a proof of plenty, but may be better accounted from the scarcity of money, & the apprehention which every man who has more than is necessary for his own consumption, has, that it will be taken from him by force.

In addition to this the people have been greatly harrassed by military duty on their frontiers & burthened with fugitives from that part of the State which was desolated by the enimy.

Sore & dissatisfied their discontents begin to break out in complaints against their Rulers, in committees, & instructions &c. which besides being dangerous symptoms, serve to weaken the hands of government, & render it highly imprudent to risk their authority by making any new demands, at least till they can convince the people that the requisitions from other states are complied with.

Your Excellency may probably ask, why I enter into a detail of evils, to which, it is out of your power to apply a remedy, & which it can not be less painful to you to hear than to me to write? For tho our many miraculous escapes & the justice of our cause have forbid me in any situation of our affairs to despond yet I freely confess that the prospect before us appears to me more gloomy than at any past period, And nothing but a firm reliance on that providence, which has conducted us thro’ innumerable difficulties, would give me room to expect any thing but ruin from a famished army, a discontented people, an exhausted treasury, & a lax government.

But what I have more immediately in view in writing this letter is to induce your Excell⟨en⟩cy; after having assertained the facts by yr own inquiry; to state to congress the danger they may incur by relying, a[s] they do, too much upon the exertions of this State.

The unhappy prejudices which the executive power of Pensilvania has conceived against this State, induces them to under rate its exertions, & to believe that its resources are infinitely greater than they realy are. And of course to be more remiss in furnishing supplies, or in pressing on those of other States than their attatchment to the cause of liberty would otherwise permit them to be.

Your Excellencys supplies in this State can Only be drawn from two counties, & a small part of a third. one of these has already send a considerable quantity of Wheat & flour to the french troops, & West point, the others have in part been ravaged by the enimy, and both together do not contain much more cultivated land than the county of Bucks in Pensilvania. Tryon County is in a great measure desolated by the enimy, & the supplies that may be drawn from the county of Albany exclusive of 5000 bushs. of wheat which is gone or is daily going to West point from the Manor of Livingston, will hardly suffice to supply the refugees from the frontiers & the troops now to the Nort[h]ward till next may. The spring will undoubtedly open with inroads of the enimy from Canada, in which case I fear that it will be almost impossible to collect supplies for the maintenance of such a body of militia or other troops as are absolutely necessary to prevent the enimies’ possessing themselves of the small remnant of this State. From the counties in the Northeast part of this State, we have not the means of drawing any supplies shd they be able to afford them. These Sir are serious truths, which those who are intimately acquainted with the situation of this impoverished State will readily acknowledge.

Your Excellency by representing them in time may possibly render congress, and the neighbouring States, so sensible of them, as to rouse them to exertions which may free you from embarasments which I am persuaded must other wise press upon you at the opening of the ensuing campaign or at least transfer all censure to where it ought to be. Common prudence directs that the supplies of a state surrounded by the enimy, & the scenes of war, should remain as a magazine in case of emergentcy That its inhabitants should be treated with the greatest tenderness, as their discontents are most dangirous, and there are numberless inconveniences to which they are peculiarly subject. These considerations have hitherto had too little weight, & I dread the effect that the neglect of them may have upon our affairs.

I will not add to this letter by appologizing for the length of it. Your Excellency will, I am persuaded, find nothing blameable, even tho’ the subject shd appear unimportant, in the effort which the heart naturally makes to lesten its pressures, by discovering, where its confidence is unbounded, what lays most heavy on it.2 I have the honor to be With the highest esteem & respect Your Excellencys Most Obt Hum: Servt

Robt R. Livingston

ALS, DLC:GW; ADf, NHi: Robert R. Livingston Papers. The draft is dated 9 Jan., but Livingston docketed it 8 January.

1Livingston’s father established the Clermont estate from the 13,000 acres he inherited in 1728 in the southwest corner of the vast Livingston Manor. The British burned the family mansion on the estate in 1777 (see James Wilkinson to GW, 24 Oct. 1777, n.2). Between 1779 and 1782, Livingston’s mother, Margaret Beekman Livingston, rebuilt the mansion, which is situated on the east bank of the Hudson River near Germantown, N.Y., and about forty miles south of Albany.

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