George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 15 March 1784

To Thomas Jefferson

Mount Vernon March 15th 1784.

Dear Sir,

The Baron de Steuben informs me, that he is about to make a final settlement with Congress; and to obtain from them that compensation which his Services shall appear to have merited; having entered into no stipulation at the time he engaged in the Service either for Pay or emoluments; chusing rather to let his Services point to their own rewards (after they were performed) than to set a value upon them before hand—Wishing, on the one hand, for nothing more than they deserved—on the other, convinced that the honor & dignity of the Sovereign power of these States would do him justice, if our cause should be crowned with success—if not, he would share their fortunes, & fall with them.

What the Barons expectations are, if he should incline to make them known, can be best explained by himself; but this I have heard him say, that to be placed in the same situation he was when he came to this Country, would content him—What this was I know not, but it should seem that, if a Foreigner gets nothing by the Service, he ought not to loose by it.1

My Sentiments with respect to the importance of the Barons Services have been delivered to Congress in so many instances, and he himself has received such repeated testimonies of it,2 that it is unnecessary for me, in this place (especially as I have laid aside my military character, and am disinclined to trouble Congress any longer with my application) to give fresh proofs of my approbation of his abilities & conduct, tending to the same points. But I could wish to see his merit, which is great; and his Services which have been eminent, rewarded to his satisfaction. I am with the most sincere esteem & regard Dr Sir Yr obedt & very Hble Servt

G: Washington

ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers; LB, DLC:GW.

1When Steuben resigned his commission as major general in the Continental army in March 1784, he renewed his campaign to secure from Congress the sort of monetary reward that he believed his contributions to the winning of American independence merited. Initially, on his arrival in 1777, Steuben offered his services to Congress without conditions as to rank or pay, but in December 1782, his “private resources being exhausted,” he made his “first direct application” to Congress for suitable recompense beyond his regular pay (6 Dec. 1777, 5 Dec. 1782, DNA:PCC, item 19). Alexander Hamilton reporting on 30 Dec. 1782 for the committee to whom Steuben’s letter was referred, recommended that Congress pay Steuben 2,400 dollars to be charged to his account and also allow him 300 dollars a month in lieu of extra pay and subsistence (30 Dec. 1782, DNA:PCC, item 164). In 1784, on 21 Mar. two days before he submitted his resignation from the army, Steuben requested “the attention of Congress to a report of their Committee on my Claims, dated 30th December 1782” (DNA:PCC, item 164). A committee’s report on Steuben’s letter of 21 Mar. recommended on 1 April that Steuben be given 2,000 dollars along with the thanks of Congress and a sword. The report was recommitted and a second report was made on 12 April calling for a payment of 6,000 dollars. After the failure of Elbridge Gerry’s motion of 13 April to postpone the motion of 12 April in order to consider a motion for issuing to Steuben certificates worth 45,000 dollars in full settlement, Congress two days later finally reached an agreement (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 26: 178–79, 216–19). On 15 April Congress accepted Steuben’s resignation, expressed its appreciation for his services, and voted him “a gold hiked sword.” It then rejected Jefferson’s motion that “the sum of ten thousand dollars be presented to Baron Steuben” as well as Ephraim Paine’s motion that it be 8,000 dollars, but in the end it unanimously accepted Roger Sherman’s motion, “That the Superintendant of finance take order for immediately advancing to Baron Steuben, on account, the sum of ten thousand dollars” (ibid., 227–30). The United States did not reach a final settlement with Steuben until after the new government was formed in 1789 (see Steuben to GW, 25 Aug. 1789, n.1).

2See, for example, GW to Henry Laurens, 26 July 1778.

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