To William Gordon
Philada May 8th 1784.
Every aid which can be derived from my official papers, I am willing to afford, & shall with much pleasure lay before you, whenever the latter can be unfolded with propriety.
It ever has been my opinion however, that no Historian can be possessed of sufficient materials to compile a perfect history of the revolution, who has not free access to the archives of Congress—to those of the respective States—to the papers of the commander in chief, & to those of the officers who have been employed in separate Departments. Combining & properly arranging the information which is to be obtained from these sources must bring to view all the material occurrences of the War. Some things probably will never be known.1
Added to this, I have always thought, that it would be respectful to the Sovereign power of these United States, to follow, rather than to take the lead of them in disclosures of this Kind: but if there should be political restraints, under which Congress are not inclined at this time to lay open their papers; & these restraints do not in their opinion extend to mine—the same being signified by that honorable Body to me, my objections to your request will cease. I shall be happy then, as at all times, to see you at Mount Vernon, & will lay before you with chearfulness, my public papers for your information.2 With great esteem & regard, I am Dr Sir Your Most Obt &c.
LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 19.
The copy is endorsed: “The Copy of Genl Washingtons Letter to the Revd William Gordon alluded to in the petition.” See Gordon to GW, 8 Mar. 1784, source note.
1. After receiving this letter, Gordon petitioned Congress for access to its records. Congress granted this and indicated it had no objection to GW’s making his papers available to the historian. See source note, Gordon to GW,8 Mar. 1784.
2. Gordon took advantage of GW’s invitation not long after receiving Congress’s approval of his project. On the cover sheet of Benjamin Rush’s notorious anonymous letter of 12 Jan. 1778 to Gov. Patrick Henry of Virginia (which Henry promptly sent to GW), in which Rush calls for GW’s removal from the command of American forces, Gordon wrote: “Mount Vernon June 18, 1784. Before perusing the letter, I can take upon me to declare, that, From the knowledge I have of Dr. Rush’s handwriting, I have not the least doubt but what it was written by him” (quoted in a footnote in Butterfield,Rush Letters, 1:185). In a private letter to Gov. Henry Lee of Virginia on 26 Aug. 1794 refuting charges that he was hostile to Patrick Henry and had recently spoken ill of him, GW commented: “I have conceived my self under obligations to him [Henry] for the friendly manner in which he transmitted to me some insiduous anonymous writings that were sent to him in the close of the year 1777, with a view to embark him in the opposition that was forming against me at that time” (ViHi). When discussing the anonymous letter, Gordon does not identify its author or mention Rush, but he does write: “Several members of congress were engaged in the business—some of the Massachusetts delegates—particularly Mr. Samuel Adams” (Gordon, History, description begins William Gordon. The History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America: Including an Account of the Late War; and of the Thirteen Colonies, from Their Origin to That Period. 4 vols. New York, 1788. description ends 3:57). In a letter to Richard Henry Lee, 29 Aug. 1789, Adams has this to say: “... Dr Gordon in his History of the Revolution . . . has gravely said, that I was concerned in an Attempt to remove General Washington from Command; and mentions an anonymous Letter written to your late Governor Henry which I affirm I never saw nor heard of till I lately met with it in reading the History—” (Lee Family Papers, PPAmP).