George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lafayette, 9 March 1784

From Lafayette

Paris March the 9th 1784

My dear General

Altho I Write You another Private letter, I Must Confidentially Let you know My opinion Upon Matters Relative to the Society.

The Captains in the Navy Have Been Much Mortified to be left out in the Institutions—they Rank as Colonels, they Have Rendered Great Services, and it is Expected Here they Will be Admitted into the Society—Some of them Came with Count d’Estaing Among Whom are Suffrein, d’albert de Rion, and Such other Great Characters—The Remainder Went Under Ternay, destouches, and Grasse—a few Have Been Sent to Carry Great News Such as the Treaty, or Have Actually Commanded in Chief, such as la peyrouse, la touche—I know they are Many, But How Can a Partial distinction Be Made—and As they Will Have Much to do with American Vessels, in preventing Contraband trade, I Suppose, or in Receiving American Ships into french Harbours, I think it Will Be Impolitic Not to put them in a Good Humour—in the Opinion I Give, I Oppose My own interest, for the less Members there will Be in the Society, the More it is Valued—But I See a Substantial Public Motive to Be determined Upon, and As the Capitaines de Vaisseaux are dispersed throughout the Harbours, they Will not So much Crowd as land officers, Because they very seldom Come to the Capital—M. d’albert de Rion, la touche, la peyrouse, tilly Cannot But Have it, and I think it should Be general.1

As to the land officers Many Claims Have Been Raised—Some of them, I think, deserve Consideration—M. de l’estrade, M. de Menonville,2 Such, in a word, as particular Reasons May Be Assigned for, ought to Be included—Above all the chevalier de lameth who Has Been So cruelly Wounded in the Redoubt, Who Was an aid de Camp, and two Months after was a Colonel—I think we must Avoid giving grounds of Complaint—inclosed is a letter Respecting Count Edward dillon who was Going to Savahana when Wounded in the Engagement at Sea, and Was then a Colonel—You will also find a Note from Mr de St Simon Respecting His Brother 3—Menonville was His Adjutant General, and in that office they Have the Honours of Brigadier paid to them When Majors in the tranchees. Mr de Corny Has Applied to me, and I Could not Give Him the Badge—I promised Him I Would mention His Wishes, and Send You His petition—His claims are set up in the Capacity of an American officer.4 inclosed you will find a petition from Mr de la Neuville and Mr de Vienne, the latter of Whom Has not the Shadow of a title, and if Such were admitted, the pretensions would Be Numberless, and Come from very disagreable Persons.5

Mr du Bouchet who, You know, is not a Wit, Has taken it in His Head to Go to America—Had I Refused a letter, it would Have killed Him, and out of pity I gave a private one to You, wherein I observe that He is Mad.6

in the Resolutions of our Committee,7 You will find a Mention Made of gnl Conway which I am Going to Explain—I don’t Say that I Have Merit—But I Say I Have in Consequences—viz.—Ennemies—My Popularity is Great throughout the Kingdom, and in this City—But Amongst the Great folks I Have a large party Against me, Because they are jealous of my Reputation—in a word, the pitt to one Man is for me—and in the Boxes there is a division—a Plot Was led to draw me into a snare, and Madame Conway was made a tool of to Give me and yourself the Air of an implacable Revenge Against that Man Who is Considered Here as Having Been Abandonned and Ruined By me in America—Secret Meetings were Held on the Occasion of which I Have Been Advised—I Have attended to my letters which I know Will Be printed—and to avoid the odium of Having stifled Connway’s Claims, I Have not discouraged a Representation Being Made in His favor—the man is Not Worth troubling our Heads about Him—But as He will Become a Pretence to a sett who Have not Hitherto found Any Against me, it May Be Better either to Give Him the Badge, or if Refused to do it With that Secrecy and delicacy which will not Subject me to the Reproach of Having proposed him, in order that He May Be Humiliated—that Whole family is a Nest of Rogues—du Bouchet excepted who is Honest, But a fool.8

The french officers Have offered Monney—I Had Rather it Was not Accepted 9—But at Such a distance I Cannot judge what is the Best to Be done—the formation of a Committee in Europe is very Necessary—But it must, for Reasons obvious, Be quite separated from any society the french officers may form as it is Calculated only for American purposes, and ought to Consist But of American officers for the time Being in Europe.

After proper allowances Have Been Made Both for the Navy officers, and particular Cases, I will Beg leave to Represent that the Members ought Not to Be too much multiplied—if a Greater facility takes place, the institution Will sink in proportion that it is Bestowed Upon too Many people, and our officers Must Be, Upon their Guard, not to give the Badge without proper Motives.

I Have Been Requested to present You with a New Model and Ribband—and from the persons that gave it Could not Refuse sending it to America. I need not saying this letter is Confidential. With the Highest Respect and tenderest Affection I Have the Honour to Be My dear General Your obedient Humble Servant



1For examples of protests at the initial failure to include French naval captains in the Society of the Cincinnati and for listings of the senior French naval officers who were in American waters during the American Revolution, see d’Estaing to GW, 8 Jan., and Barras to GW, 23 Jan. 1784. See also notes in both documents.

2François-Louis-Arthur Thibaut, comte de Ménonville (1740–1816), came to America with Rochambeau in 1780 as aide-major généerate and distinguished himself at Yorktown as the commander of the detachment of the Soissonais Regiment that stormed redoubt no. 9. For the baron de L’Estrade, see Rochambeau to GW, 1 Mar. 1784, n.2.

3Claude de Rouvroy, baron de Saint-Simon (1752–1811), was the younger brother of the marquis Saint-Simon-Montbléru. In a letter of 24 Oct. 1781 to the marquis de Saint-Simon, GW commended the brave service of both at the siege at Yorktown. Neither of the two enclosed letters has been found.

4Louis-Dominique Ethis de Corny (1736–1790) did not arrive in the United States until April 1780, with Lafayette. Corny returned to France in February 1781 on a mission for Congress and then resigned his American commission on 1 Jan. 1782.

5The petition from Louis-Pierre Penot Lombard, chevalier de La Neuville, has not been found. See note 7. The enclosed letter from Louis-Pierre, marquis de Vienne (1746–1812), asked GW to recommend to Lafayette that, “as an exception,” Lafayette “enroll the Marquis de Vienne in the Society of the Cincinnati.” Otherwise, “he dare not boast of having serv’d under the great General Washington,” lest it “be inferred that he has not complied with his duty, that he has not shown the Spirit of a Soldier and a Gentleman.” To support his claim, Vienne gave GW the following account of his service in America: “The Marquis of Vienne left France in 1778 to join the General the Marquis de la Fayette as Volunteer in America, to whome he was recommended. He embarked at Nants at his own expence on board a frigate belonging to the Congress, call’d the Queen of France, commanded by Captain Green. After a long and fatigueing voyage he arriv’d at Boston, where he remain’d only to make the necessary preparations. From thence he set off to join the Marquis de la Fayette, who was then at Vally Forge, where he arriv’d the day before the King’s troops evacuated Philadelphia. He had the honour to be presented to your Excellency by the Marquis, who at the same time requested the permission of his serving under your immediate Command, to which you graciously condescended. He was of the detach’d party commanded by General de la Fayette to pursue the Enemy over Sandy-hook. The day before the Action of Mon-mouth, he was dispatch’d by the General de la Fayette with four Dragoons to reconnoitre the Enemy’s march in their retreat, and to examine the position of their Camp. He pursued them with such speed, that they were no sooner encamp’d, than he thro’ the favour of a Storm, pass’d between two of their advanc’d Guards into their very Tents, and took two English Grenadiers prisoners, whome he sent to General de la Fayette. He return’d shortly after to make his report of his expedition. He was the next day with the Marquis de la Fayette in the action of Mon-Mouth. The English having reimbark’d, the Marquis de la Fayette sent him from Brunswick to Philadelphia to be presented to the Congress, with letters of recommendation to the President Laurens. The Congress granted him the Degree and rank of a Colonel. Shortly afterwds, he left Philadelphia and rejoin’d your Excellency at Old Plain, whence he set off the following day with the Marquis de la Fayette to march for Providence and Rhode-Island, where he serv’d during the time the Troops of the United States remain’d there, under the command of General Sullivan, and return’d not to the Continent, ’till after their retreat from Providence; at which time he was sent by the Marquis de la Fayette to carry dispatches to the Count d’Estaing. War being declared at this period in his Native Country, he demanded your Excellency’s permission to serve under its Banners, to which you agreed, and sent him a discharge dated Fredricks-Bourg Octobr the 16th, 1778 together with a Certificate, both of which and one from the Marquis de la Fayette, he sends inclosed with this.

“The Marquis of Vienne set off at his own expence, and could not prevail on himself to receive any sort of recompence or appointment from the United States of America. His Name & Family are well known in France, and his Father is honour’d by his Sovereign with the Rank of Lieutenant General—Under these Circumstances it is plain he could have no Motives to be mercenary; nor any Desire that his Services should be recompensed with Money. He only sought the glory of spilling his blood, and exposing his life for the Cause and in the Service of the United States.

“That Campaign cost him more than Twelve hundred Guineas, out of a Fortune not the most considerable, nor entirely free from Embarrassments.

“He departed from Boston with M. le Comte d’Estaing, and wou’d certainly have return’d to America, had not both his health & fortune been impair’d, & render’d the Attempt impracticable” (translation, DSoC). The contemporary translation has been corrected in another hand and the excerpts printed here incorporate the corrections. GW wrote a letter in response on 25 Nov. 1784 virtually identical to the letter he wrote Fock on that same day. See Fock to GW, 24 Feb. 1784, n.2.

6See Lafayette to GW, 9 Mar. 1784 (second letter).

7The enclosed resolutions are headed: “On a Board of American Officers held in Paris march the 8th 1784 Present Majir General Mis de la Fayette Majr general Duportail Colo. Gouvion Lt Col. Fleury Lt Col. Tousard Lt Col. Villefranche Maj. pontgibaut Maj. l’Enfant, the resolutions of another board held on January the 16th were retaken in consideration and confirmed. whereupon.” Under this heading, there are “Petitions” listed in one column and “decisions of the Committee” in another. The petitions were from Thomas Mullens, “captain in the French army and Lt Col. by brevet in the united states,” who served in America from 1776 to 1778; from the chevalier de Crénis, “captain of Dragoons in the French service and Lt Col. by brevet in the american army,” who went to America in 1776 and stayed until 1779; Louis-Pierre, marquis de Vienne, “colonel by brevet in the united states army,” who served in one campaign with GW’s approval and that of Congress, at his own expense, and for the next three years suffered from “a very bad state of health”; and from Louis-Pierre Penot Lombart, chevalier de La Neuville, “Lt Col. in the French Service, and brigadier by brevet in the Continental army,” who went to America in 1777 and a year later returned to France on a mission for Congress. The French committee decided that Lafayette should present the case for the election of Mullens and La Neuville, that Crénis was not qualified for election to the Cincinnati, and that the committee “won’t determine anything about the Marquis de Vienne.” The docket on the document indicates that the French committee’s resolutions were read on 7 May 1784 at the general meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati in Philadelphia.

8In its resolutions, the committee expressed a wish “to represent to the general assembly that general [Thomas] Conway being now in the east indies, it has been impossible for him to make any application respecting the society.” Thomas Conway (1735–c.1800), an Irishman reared in France, had reached the rank of colonel in the French army when Silas Deane in 1776 recommended him to Congress. After his arrival in America in the spring of 1777, Congress made him a brigadier general and in December 1777 promoted him to major general over GW’s strong and open opposition. In the winter of 1777–78, Conway was in correspondence with Gen. Horatio Gates and others in opposition to GW’s command. The so-called Conway Cabal was discovered and Conway’s resignation from the Continental army was accepted in April 1778. In January 1778 Lafayette had refused to accept Conway as his second in command.

9See Rochambeau to GW, 19 Jan. 1784, n.5. The Institution as adopted at the general meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati, 4–18 May 1784, provided that no donations would be received “but from citizens of the United States.”

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