George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Parke Custis, 28 February 1781

To John Parke Custis

New Windsor Feby 28th 1781.

Dear Custis

If you will accept a hasty letter in return for yours of last month I will devote a few moments for this purpose, and confine myself to an interesting point, or two.1

I do not suppose that so young a Senator—as you are—little versed in political disquisitions can yet have much influence in a populous assembly; composed of Gentn of various talents and of different views—But it is in your power to be punctual in your attendance (and duty to the trust reposed in you exacts it of you)—to hear dispassionately—and determine cooly all great questions—To be disgusted at the decision of questions because they are not consonant to our own ideas—and to withdraw ourselves from public assemblies—or to neglect our attendence at them upon suspicion that there is a party formed who are enimical to our Cause, & to the true interest of our Country, is wrong because these things may originate in a difference of opinion; but supposing the fact is otherwise & that our suspicions are well founded it is the indispensable duty of every patriot to counteract them by the most steady & uniform opposition. This advice is the result of information, that you & others being dissatisfied at the proceedings of the Virginia Assembly and thinking your attendance of little avail (as their is always a majority for measures which you & a minority conceive to be repugnant to the interest of your Country) are indifferent about the Assembly.

The next & I believe the last thing I shall have time to touch upon is our Military establishment. and here if I thought conviction of having a permanent force had not—ere this—flashed upon every mans Mind I could write a volume in support of the utility of it; for no day, nor hour arrives unaccompd with proof of some loss—some expence—or some misfortune consequent of the want of it. No operation of War offensive or defensive can be carried on, for any length of time without it—No funds are adequate to the supplies of a fluctuating Army—tho’ it may go under the denomination of a regular one—much less are they competent to the support of Militia—In a word, for it is,2 unnecessary to go into all the reasons the subject will admit of, we have brought a cause which might have been happily terminated years ago by the adoption of proper measures to the verge of ruin by temporary enlistments & a reliance on Militia—The sums expended in bounties—waste of Arms—consumption of Military Stores—Provisions—Camp Utensils &ca—to say nothing of Cloathing which temporary Soldiers are always receiving, & always in want of—are too great for the resources of any Nation; & prove the fallacy & danger of temporary expedients which are no more than Mushrooms and of as short duration, but leave a sting (that is a debt3 which is continually revolving upon us) behind them.

It must be a settled plan, founded in system, order & economy that is to carry us triumphantly through the War. Supiness, & indifference to the distresses & cries of a sister State when danger is far of[f]—and a general but momentary resort to Arms when it comes to our doors, are equally impolitic & dangerous, and proves the necessity of a controuling power in Congress to regulate and direct all matters of general concern—without it the great business of War never can be well conducted, if it can be conducted at all—While the powers of congress are only recommendatory—while one State yields obedience, & another refuses it—while a third mutilates & adopts the measure in part only—& all vary in time & manner, it is scarcely possible our Affairs should prosper, or that any thing but disappointmt can follow the best concerted plan—the willing States are almost ruined by their exertions—distrust & jealousy succeeds to it—hence proceed neglects & ill-timed compliances (one state waiting to see what another will do)—this thwarts all our measures after a heavy tho’ ineffectual expence is incurred.

Does not these things shew then in the most striking point of view the indispensable necessity—the great and good policy—of each State’s sending its ablest & best men to Congress? Men who have a perfect understanding of the constitution of their Country—of its policy & Interests—and of vesting that body with competent powers. Our Independance depends upon it—our respectability & consequence in Europe depends upon it—our greatness as a Nation, hereafter, depends upon it. the fear of giving sufficient powers to Congress for the purposes I have mentioned is futile, without it, our Independence fails, & each Assembly under its present Constitution will be annihilated and we must once more return to the Government of G: Britain—& be made to kiss the rod preparing for our correction—a nominal head, which at present is but another name for Congress, will no longer do—That ⟨hble⟩ body, after hearing the interests & views of the several States fairly discussed & explained by their respective representatives must dictate, not merely recommend, and leave it to the States afterwards to do as they please—which, as I have observed before, is in many cases, to do nothing ⟨at all⟩.

When I began this letter I did not expect to have filled more than one side of the sheet but I have run on insensibly—If you are at home, give my love to Nelly and the Children. if at Richmond present ⟨my⟩ complimts to any enquiring friends. Sincerely & Affectly I am Y⟨rs⟩

Go: W——n

P.S. The Public Gazettes will give you all the news & occurrances of this Quarter—our eyes are anxiously turned towards the South for ⟨events⟩.

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Custis’s letter to GW of January has not been found.

2GW wrote and struck out “& must be” at this point on his draft.

3GW placed a closed parenthesis after this word on his draft.

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