George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Sullivan, 4 February 1781

To John Sullivan

New Windsor Feby 4th 1781

Dear Sir,

Colo. Armand deliver’d me your favor of the 29th Ulto last Evening & I thank you for the sevl communications contained in it1—The measure adopted by Congress of appointing a Minister of War—Finance—& for Foreign Affairs I think a very wise one. To give efficacy to it, proper characters will, no doubt, be chosen to conduct the business of these departments. How far Colo. Hamilton—of whom you ask My opinion as a financier—has turned his thoughts to that particular study I am unable to ansr because I never entered upon a discussion of this point with him—but this I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few Men to be found, of his age, who has a more general knowledge than he possesses—and none whose Soul is more firmly engaged in the cause—or who exceeds him in probity & Sterling virtue.

I am clearly in Sentiment with you that our cause only became distressed—& apparently desperate from an imprr management of it. and that errors once discovered are more than half amended—I have no doubt of our abilities or resources, but we must not slumber Nor Sleep—they Never will be drawn forth if we do—Nor will violent exertions which subside with the occasion answer our purposes. It is a provident foresight—a proper arrangement of business—system & order in the execution that is to be productive of that œconomy which is to defeat the efforts & hopes of Great Britain—And I am happy— thrice happy on private as well as public acct, to find that these are in train; for it will ease my Shoulders of an immense burthen which the deranged & perplexed Situation of our Affairs and the distresses of every department of the Army which concentred in the Comdr in chief had placed upon them.

I am not less pleased to hear that, Maryland has acceded to the confederation, & that Virginia has relinquished its claim to the Land West of the Ohio—which for fertility of Soil—pleasantness of clime—& other Natu[ra]l advantages is equal to any known tract of Country in the Universe of the same extent taking the great Lakes for its Northern boundary.

I wish—most devoutly a happy completio⟨n⟩ to your plan of finance (which you say is near finished)—and mu⟨ch⟩ success to your scheme of borrowing Coined specie, & Plate. but in wha⟨t⟩ manner do you purpose to apply t⟨he⟩ latter? as a fund to redeem its value in Paper, to be emitted—or to coi⟨n⟩ it? If the latter it will add one mo⟨re⟩ to a thousand other reasons wch might be offered in proof of the necessi⟨ty⟩ of vesting legislative or dictatorial powers in Congress to make Laws of general ut⟨i⟩lity for the purposes of War &⟨c.⟩ that they might prohibit under the pains, & penalty of death specie and Provisions going to the Enemy for Goods. The Traffic with New York is immense—Individual States will no⟨t⟩ Make it felony, lest (among other reasons) it should not become gene[ra]l—& nothing short of it will ever check, much less stop a practice which at the same time that it serves to drain us of our Provision & Specie remove the barrier between us and the enemy—corrupt the morals of our people by a lucritive traffick & by degrees weaken the opposition affords a mean to obtain regular and perfect intelligence of every thing among us while even in this respect we benefit no thing from a fear of discovery—Men of all descriptions are now indiscriminately engaging in it—Whig—Tory—Speculator—By its being practiced by those of the latter class, in a mannr with impunity Men who—two or three yrs ago—would have shuddered at the idea of such connexions now pursue it with avidity & reconcile it to themselves (in which their profits plead powerfully) upon a principle of equality, with the Tory, who being actuated ⟨by⟩ principle (favourable to us), & knowing that a forfeiture of the Goods to the Informer was all he had to dr⟨ead⟩ and that this was to be eluded by an agreemt to inform against each another—went into the measure wi⟨thout Risk⟩.

This is a degression, but the Subject is of so serious a nature, and so interesting to our well being as a Nation, that I Never expect to see a happy termination of the War—nor great national ⟨concerns⟩ well conducted in Peace—till there is something more than a recommendatory power in Congress. It is not possible in time of War that business can be conducted well without it—The last words therefore of my letter & the first wish of my heart concur in favor of ⟨it⟩.2 I am with much esteem and respect. Dr Sir Yr obt & Affe Servt

G. W——n

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Obscured or mutilated portions of the draft are supplied in angle brackets from the Varick transcript.

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