George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Duane, 10 April 1785

To James Duane

Mount Vernon 10th Apl 1785.

Dear Sir,

Enclosed you have my answer to the Acts of your Corporation, which I pray you to present.1

I thank you for the Arguments & judgment of the Mayor’s Court of the City of New York in the Cause betwn Elizabeth Rutgars & Joshua Waddington 2—I have read them with all the attention I could give the subject, and though I pretend not to be a competent judge of the Law of Nations, or the principle & policy of the Statute upon which the Action was founded; yet, I must confess, that reason seems very much in favor of the opinion given by the Court, and my judgment yields a hearty assent to it.

It is painful, to hear that a state which used to be foremost in acts of liberality, and its exertion to establish our fœderal system upon a broad bottom & solid ground is contracting her ideas, & pointing them to local & independent measures; which, if persevered in, must sap the Constitution of these States (already too weak)—destroy our National character—& render us as contemptable in the eyes of Europe as we have it in our power to be respectable—It should seem as if the Impost of 5 pr Ct would never take place, for no sooner does an obstinate State begin to relent, and adopt the recommendation of Congress, but some other runs restive; as if there was a combination among them, to defeat the measure.

From the latest European Accts it is probable an accomodation will take place between the Emperor and the Dutch—but to reverberate News to a Man at the source of intelligence would be idle—therefore Mum—The Dutch I conceive are too much attached to their possessions & their wealth, if they could yield to the pangs of parting with their Country, to adopt the plan you hinted to Mr Van Berckel. The Nations of Europe are ripe for Slavery—a thirst after riches—a promptitude to luxury—and a sinking into venality with their concomitants, untune them for Manly exertions & virtuous Sacrafices.

I do not know from whence the report of my coming to Trenton could have originated—unless from the probability of my accompanying the Marquis de la Fayette as far as New York should have caus’d it—he pressed me to the measure, but the Season was too much opposed to it, to obtain my consent.3

Mrs Washington & myself, entertain a grateful sense of the kind recollection of us by you, Mrs & Miss Duane, & the other branches of your family, & beg leave to present our Compliments to, & best wishes for, them all. With very great esteem & regard I have the honor to be—Dear Sir Yr Most Obedt & Affecte Hble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. If our Rocky-hill acquaintance—Mrs Vanhorne—has removed (as they talked of doing) to the City of New York I pray you to recall me, in respectful terms, to her remembrance.4

Go: W——n.

ALS, NHi: Duane Papers; LB, DLC:GW.

1On 16 Dec. 1784 Duane wrote to GW enclosing an address from the City of New York and a certificate making him a freeman of the city, but Duane did not send the packet until 10 Mar. 1785 when he enclosed both the letter and its enclosures in a letter of that date. The certificate and address are in note 1 of Duane’s letter of 16 December. In this letter of 10 April to Duane, GW enclosed a formal letter of thanks to Duane and another to the city officials, both also dated 10 April.

The text of GW’s formal letter to Duane as mayor of New York is: “A few days since by Doctr [Arthur] Lee, I had the honor to receive your favors of the 16th of December from Trenton, and 10th of March from the City of New York. The former enclosing an Address of the City, and the freedom thereof in a very handsome golden Box.

“For the flattering expression of the Address, & the honor which it confered on me by the freedom of the City, I entertain a grateful sense. I wish my powers were equal to my feelings, that I might express the latter in more lively terms than are contained in the enclosed answer.

“Let me beseech you, Sir, at the moment you shall have laid it before your Worshipful Board, to add the strongest assurances of the respect and attachment with which I have the honor to be, their, and your Most Obedt & Very Hble Servant Go: Washington” (ALS, NHi: George and Martha Washington Papers). GW’s draft and letter-book copy are in DLC:GW. Dr. Arthur Lee “came to Dinner” at Mount Vernon on 30 Mar. (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:109).

The text of GW’s letter “To The Honble the Mayor, Recorder, Alderman & Commonalty of the City of New York,” is: “Gentlemen, I receive your Address, and the freedom of the City with which you have been pleased to present me in a golden Box, with the sensibility and gratitude which such distinguished honors have a claim to. The flattering expression of both, stamps value on the Acts; & call for stronger language than I am master of, to convey my sense of the obligation in adequate terms.

“To have had the good fortune amidst the viscissitudes of a long and arduous contest ‘never to have known a moment when I did not possess the confidence and esteem of my Country.’ And that my conduct should have met the approbation, and obtained the Affectionate regard of the State of New York (where difficulties were numerous & complicated) may be ascribed more to the effect of divine wisdom, which had disposed the minds of the people, harrassed on all sides, to make allowances for the embarrassments of my situation, whilst with fortitude & patience they sustained the loss of their Capitol, and a valuable part of their territory—and to the liberal sentiments, and great exertion of her virtuous Citizens, than to any merit of mine.

“The reflection of these things now, after the many hours of anxious sollicitude which all of us have had, is as pleasing, as our embarrassments at the moments we encountered them, were distressing—and must console us for past sufferings & perplexities.

“I pray that Heaven may bestow its choicest blessings on your City—That the devastations of War, in which you found it, may soon be without a trace—That a well regulated & benificial Commerce may enrichen your Citizens. And that, your State (at present the Seat of the Empire) may set such examples of Wisdom & liberality, as shall have a tendency to strengthen & give permanency to the Union at home—and credit & respectability to it abroad. The accomplishment whereof is a remaining wish, & the primary object of all my desires” (ALS, NHi: George and Martha Washington Papers). GW’s draft and letter-book copy are in DLC:GW.

3For references to the widespread report that GW intended to visit Philadelphia, New York, and New England in the fall of 1784, see Knox to GW, 23 Nov. 1784, n.2.

4GW was probably referring to the wife of John Van Horne (c.1743-1820) of Rocky Hill in Somerset County, N.J. She was a daughter of Nathaniel Heard of Woodbridge, N.J.

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