George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Vaughan, 21 March 1789

To Samuel Vaughan

Mount Vernon March 21st 1789

My dear Sir

I have just now been favored with the receipt of your letter, dated the 10th of Octor last; and would not delay to make my acknowledgments by the earliest opportunity. While I appreciate with gratitude the favorable sentiments you are pleased to express for me; I flatter myself, in the communication of the following ideas which have occurred on the subject of your letter, you will be persuaded I am influenced alone by that genuine frankness, which is most consistent with friendship & which I desire may ever be a characteristic feature in my conduct through life.1

The event which I have long dreaded, I am at last constrained to believe, is now likely to happen. For that I have, during many months, been oppressed with an apprehension it might be deemed unavoidably expedient for me to go again into public life, is known to all, who know me. But from the moment, when the necessity had become more apparent, & as it were inevitable, I anticipated, in a heart filled with distress, the ten thousand embarrassments, perplexities & troubles to which I must again be exposed in the evening of a life, already near consumed in public cares. Among all these anxieties I will not conceal from you, I anticipated none greater, than those that were likely to be produced by applications for appointments to the different offices, which would be created under the new government. Nor will I conceal, that my apprehensions have already been but too well justified. Scarcely a day passes in which applications of one kind or another do not arrive. Insomuch, that had I not early adopted some general principles, I should before this time have been [wholly occupied in this business]. As it is, I have found the number of answers, which I have been necessitated to give in my own hand, an almost insupportable burden to me. The points in which all these answers have agreed in substance are: that should it be my lot to go again into public office, I would go into it, without being under any possible engagements of any nature whatsoever: that, so far as I knew my own heart, I would not be in the remotest degree influenced, in making nominations, by motives arising from the ties of amity or blood: and that, on the other hand, three things, in my opinion, ought principally to be regarded, viz., the fitness of characters to fill offices, the comparative claims from the former merits & sufferings in service of the different Candidates, and the distribution of appointments in as equal a proportion as might be to persons belonging to the different States in the Union; for without pre-cautions of these kinds, I clearly foresaw the endless jealousies, and, possibly, the fatal consequences, to which a government, depending altogether on the good will of the people for its establishment, would certainly be exposed in its early stages. Besides I thought, whatever the effect might be in pleasing or displeasing any individuals at the present moment, a due concern for my own reputation not less decisively than a sacred regard to the interests of the Community, required that I should hold myself absolutely at liberty to act, while in office, with a sole reference to justice & the public good. It is true, in such a fallible state of existence [and from the want of a compet. knowledge of character] I may err [in my nominations]: but my errors shall be such as result from the head—and not from the heart.

The hurry I am at present in will not permit me to be so particular, as I wished to have been. Nor would the limits of a letter suffice to describe the difficulties which I fear might occur in conferring important offices upon persons, however meritorious they may really be, who have resided but a little while, & are consequently but little known in America. A single disgust excited in a particular State on this account, might, perhaps, raise a flame of opposition that could not easily, if ever, be extinguished. For the fact, I apprehend, will be found to be, that there will be a hundred competitors for every office of any kind of importance. Indeed, the number of offices will, in our œconomical management of the affairs of the Republic, be much fewer, as I conceive, & the pretensions of those who may wish to occupy them much more forcible; than many well informed men have imagined. In all events, so much I can with truth declare, that several of the Candidates, who have already come forward, have claims to the public attention & gratitude which cannot be set aside without a palpable act of injustice. Some of them are men of unquestionable talents, who have wasted the flower of their lives, in the civil or military service of their country: men who have materially injured their properties, and excluded themselves from obtaining a subsistence for their families by the professions they were accustomed to pursue. There are some, I may add, who have shed the⟨ir⟩ blood, & deserved all that a grateful country has to bestow. Nor are they, in my judgment, incap⟨able⟩ of reflecting lustre on the most dignified stations.

From this simple, but just state of circumstances, you will perceive, my dear Sir, on what an oc⟨ean⟩ of troubles I am likely to be embarked. In the mean time, you will suffer me to observe, that, from the very satisfactory accounts I have been able to obtain of your Son’s abilities, accomplishments & dispositions, I am thoroughly persuaded he is capable of discharging the duties of a public office, with the greatest reputation to himself & advantage to the government which might employ him. But, however, I may be convinced of his merits; or, however, I may be disposed to serve him: you will be able to comprehend, from what I have already said, a part of the serious obstacles which will oppose themselves to the success of any Candidate, so partially known in America as he is. I have no conception of a more delicate task than that which is imposed by the Constitituion on the Executive. It is the nature of Republicans, who are nearly in a state of equality, to be extremely jealous as to the disposal of all honorary or lucratrive appointments. Perfectly convinced I am, that, if injudicious or unpopular measures should be taken by the Executive under the new Government with regard to appointments, the Government itself would be in the utmost danger of being utterly subverted by those measures. So necessary it is, at this crisis, to conciliate the good will of the people: and so impossible is it, in my judgment, to build the edifice of public happiness, but upon their affections.

Your good sense & native candour must serve me as an apology, for being thus explicit. Mrs W. & the family desire their most respectful Complts may be presented to you. I add no more than that you may ever count upon the friendly sentiments & best wishes of him who has the pleasure to subscribe himself with real esteem & respect My dear Sir, Your Most obedient Most hble Servant

Df, in the writing of David Humphreys, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW. The words enclosed in square brackets are in GW’s writing.

1When Samuel Vaughan wrote to GW on 10 Oct. 1788 he was at St. James, Jamaica. For Vaughan and his sons, see Vaughan to GW, 4 Nov. 1788. His October letter reads in part: “I most heartily congratulate Your Excellency on the adoption of the new Constitution. May every succeeding step be attended with equal success, so that the Freedom that we had so long in view, may be established on the firmest foundation, to form an Assylum for the oppressed and virtuous and serve as an Example to all other Nations, who will have cause to the latest posterity to Bless Your partiotic Endeavours to obtain that object.

“Tho I have been disapointed (and mortified) in my sanguine expectations and wishes to pass my days with my family on Your Continent, I yet hope I shall not be disapointed in the settling my three youngest Sons. I have paid an unremitted attention and been at great expence for a number of Years to fit them in particular to be of use to Your Community, and after thus giving them Inclination and qualifications proper for it, and breaking off connections that would have aided them in settling among their old friends and acquaintance, I own if they fail of success, the event would to me be doubly cruel.

“The reason of my present addressing Your Excellency is the settlement of my Youngest Son Samuel, who has been till this time waiting for the Consitution of the United States to be put on a solid footing before he took a decided step towards an Establishment for life. Now that a Constitution of Liberty is so happily confirmed, he joins me in wishing to take the earliest means to fix himself there, particularly as his Inclination leads him to fill some Civil Department.

“I will not urge to Your Excellency the motives that have uniformly influenced me, and the sacrifices I have made to effect this object, nor the part I may possess of Your Excellencys esteem, but depend wholly on the Education that I have given him, his acquisitions under singular advantages, and which has fitted him for the proper execution of many departments, in order to ensure Your Interest in his favor in the distributions of Offices that of course will take place, previous to the carrying the adopted Constitution into effect.

“My Son having been in many Countries on the Continent and having had an oppertunity of acquiring a good deal of general knowledge respecting the Constitution and local circumstances of these Nations and formed connections with Eminent Men where ever he has been, besides acquiring a certain proficiency of the French and German Languages, I think he is particularly qualified for a Department in the Office for Foreign Affairs. Otherwise, he is of a speculative turn, as well as of practical habits; and therefore if thought and research are requisites of an Office that may be open for him, it will be more agreeable to his Inclinations. For further particulars I refer Your Excellency to Doctor Franklin and Mr Jay, who were very well acquainted with him on his first outset on the Continent of Europe.

“You may be surprised that I should be so long at a distance from my only remaining comfort, my family, but the wretched condition of the Works and Buildings on my Estates and Pen render the Eye of the master necessary for another year, once for all, to put them in proper repair. I shall then return to England to enjoy domestic Society and to contemplate at a distance the Blessings which I cannot, but which I hope my posterity will long enjoy” (DLC:GW).

A letter from Samuel Vaughan, Jr., also dated 10 Oct. 1788 from Jamaica, accompanied his father’s letter. “As a Stranger to your Person I can derive no plea from your own knowledge of me to interest you in my Behalf & to urge an American Heart & Principles, altho’ it gives me Merit in my own consideration, can be no recommendation in America; I have Sir nothing but the weight of a Fathers opinion, & the Indulgence he may have from your esteem of him to offer your Excellency as inducements to befriend me in an intended application for one of the Places that may be created when the New Constitution is established. Educated with a Design to settle in America & with a View to be of utility to that Community I think myself prepared for the Task: my Inclinations are also perfectly decided by near a two Years residence, which has rendered me unfit to live where a less degree of Liberty is possessed. At the Distance that I am at present the ignorance of what offices may be to be filled. I cannot indicate what I could best undertake; but it suffices if I am so fortunate as to influence your Excellency’s opinion & Interest as my favor for the present, as I hope shortly to pay you my personal respects” (DLC:GW).

Samuel Vaughan’s son John forwarded both letters from Philadelphia on 11 Mar. 1789, explaining to GW that he had “for Some time kept in my hands the letters which accompany this in hopes my Brothers return from the West Indies would afford him the honor of presenting himself to you. A view of obtaining some knowledge of the French W. Indies induced him to call at Hispaniola on his way home where accident detained him & he is only just arrived at New York. He would immediately have proceeded to Mt Vernon to pay his personal respects, & ask your Excellencies Advice upon the object of his & my fathers wishes & as far as Consistent with propriety your patronage; but your Call to New York was so near that he feared intruding upon the time requisite to the Settlement of your private affairs, which a wise & affectionate publick has once more Called upon you to desert.

“Sensible that a fathers partiality may lead to an improper estimation of a Sons Talents I take the liberty of referrg to D. Franklin, M. Jay & M. Morris for information.

“Whatever may be the result of these views I am Sure those of the family who are in this Country, now find the object for which they adopted it, Upon the point of being fully obtained, by a good Government, the administration of which is So wisely provided for by the Call of your Excellency to the head ofit”(DLC:GW).

On 21 Mar. GW wrote to Samuel Vaughan, Jr., that “In acknowledging the letter, which I had the pleasure to receive from you by the last mail, I should have thought myself obliged, from principles of politeness and regard for you as well as from motives of justice to myself, to have entered into a full explanation of my general sentiments & feelings ⟨on⟩ the subject; did not the enclosed letter for ⟨yo⟩ur father (which is left open for your in⟨sp⟩ection, and which you will be pleased to have ⟨c⟩losed & forwarded) explain them as fully as I am at leisure to do at this time.

“In case it should be my unavoidable fortune to occupy the Chair of Government, I may be under the necessity of adopting a system of public conduct altogether from reasons of state: but I pray you will be persuaded that my inclinations for paying particular attention to distinguished talents & merits can never fail of being sincere” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

On the same day, 21 Mar., GW wrote to John Vaughan that “I put under cover to you answers to the letters from your father & brother, which accompanied yours of the 11th instant. I have left that for the former, under a flying seal, enclosed in the oth⟨er⟩” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

Samuel Vaughan, Jr., replied from New York on 1 April. His answer reads in part: “Your very polite & obliging favors to my Father & myself of the 21 Ulto came safe to hand. The one to him I shall have an opportunity to forward in a few Days. However he may be flattered with the attention paid him by your Excellency, he will be extremely sorry to find that at this important & busy period he should have engaged so much of your Excellencys time; & as it now appears, upon so delicate a Subject.

“We cannot Sir both of us but highly approve of the Plan of conduct your Excellency has laid down, but my Father as well as myself will in consequence I dare say be anxious to prove that our Views & the Steps we took, were not inconsistent with the most scrupulous principles on our Part. Under the Impression that the Government would be established on the extensive Basis of an European Empire, & of course would require the employment of a Number of Officers: Under the Impression also that the foundation was solid & would be permanent, he supposed no better opportunity could be wished for to render me useful, than to embark me in the Public Line. He did not suppose that I was to have an ostensible Department, but to be in some subordinate Station, where by encreasing my knowledge in State Affairs I might fit myself for a superior one. The propriety of expressing his Inclination, & of even endeavouring to influence the good opinion of those who were likely to be able to give the most respectable introduction was no more doubted, than the propriety of taking similar or other suitable measures had the object been the Bar or any other pursuit in Life. The case indeed is usual in Europe; & in the present one, his continued efforts to fit his Children to be useful members of Society in this Country being well known to those Gentlemen whom he addressed upon the occasion, was in addition in his favor. For myself, my & my family Interest points a Settlement out of the Country as most proper; my happiness however has directed me to join my Father in his views for my establishment in this Country, views, that he formed before I was well capable of thinking—Private Life has also been always my wish in a Govt of the Nature of that of United States, & where I could have no possible pretentions to Public Favor. I have complied with my Fathers inclinations whenever I have pursued a different conduct.

“At the Distance we were from the Country, Your Excellency may easily suppose that the weighty objections mentioned in your favors of the 21st Ulto could not have occurred with their full force; some of them did not even at all occur. They are such as at once banish all further thoughts on the Subject; & I can safely add, that I do it without feeling a disappointment, further, than as it lessens the probability of my being able to ensure the enjoyment of the peculiar advantages that are offered by the Constitution to the Citizens of these States. I am however still directing my endeavours to ensure it in a Private Line” (DNA:PCC, item 78).

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