George Washington Papers

From George Washington to D’Estaing, 13 October 1789

To D’Estaing

New-York, October 13th 1789

Dear General,

I have been honored with the receipt of your letter of the 8th of June enclosing a list of Officers who wish to receive diplomas from the society of the Cincinnati.

General Knox will forward to your Excellency, by the Count de Moustier,1 who is so obliging as to favor this letter with his care, Diplomas for the first forty five names on your list2—he has sent to the Commandant of the Squadron, now at Boston, Diplomas for the Vicomte de Pontever Gien, Marquis de la Galisoniere, Monsieur de Durand de Braiye, and the Marquis de Traversay—and he hopes to obtain a sufficiency of Diplomas to complete your list, which he will transmit to you by the next Packet for France.3

I am assured that I shall add to your Excellencys satisfaction by telling you that the political circumstances of the United States are in so pleasing a train as to promise respectabillity to their Government, and happiness to our citizens.

The opposition offered to the reform of our federal Constitution has in a great measure subsided, and there is every reason to predict political harmony and individual happiness to the States and Citizens of confederated America.

The Revolution, announced by the intelligence from France, must be interesting to the Nations of the World in general, and is certainly of the greatest importance to the Country in which it has happened.

I am persuaded I express the sentiments of my fellow-citizens, when I offer an earnest prayer that it may terminate in the permanent honor and happiness of your Government and People.4 with sentiments of respectful Affection and esteem, I have the honor to be, Dear General Your Most obedient Servant.

Copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

2In his letter of 8 June d’Estaing had submitted two separate lists of applications for diplomas, one for French army officers who had served in America and one for French naval officers, who were now admitted to membership in the society. When the Society of the Cincinnati was established in France membership was at first confined to officers who had served in the army. See Barras to GW, 23 Jan. 1784, and notes.

3In September and October 1789 a squadron of vessels of the French navy, under the command of Henri-Jean-Baptiste, vicomte de Pontevès-Giens, visited several American ports. Pontevès-Giens, Athanase-Scipion-Barrin, marquis de La Galissonnière, Jean-Baptiste-Alexandre Durand de Braye, and Jean-Baptiste Prévost de Sansac, marquis de Traversay, had all served with the French navy during its American campaigns. Galissonnière was second in command in the squadron. William Eustis, writing Henry Knox in the fall of 1789 on the “danger in giving a diploma to any foreign officer,” observed that it was the opinion of Galissionnère, “the other brethren in the fleet, & I believe of all the other officers that the Viscount de Ponteves, commander of the squadron, has been made a member thro’ mistake. . . . I am persuaded that time & its information will convince you that he was not entitled to become a wearer of the bald eagle” (Eustis to Knox, 13 Nov. 1789, NNGL: Knox Papers).

4D’Estaing replied to this letter on 20 Mar. 1790: “The letter with which you have had the goodness to honor me, dated October 13th, has been transmitted to me by M. le Comte de Moustier, as well as the diplomas with which he was charged. I have transmitted them to the Officers to whom they were destined. Deign to accept, I beseech you, with that indulgent goodness which is your characteristic, the homage of my thanks. Those which Each one of my comrades have charged me to tender to you, vary in expression, but unite in sentiment. Some envy the good fortune of the Squadron which was at Boston—others desire to be so happy as to shew their duty to you; and none fail to signify the satisfaction which they feel in possessing so honorable a title and to transmit it to their families. The Signature of M. George Washington is placed above those of the greatest Sovereigns that ever existed; they shew it with a Kind of religious veneration; for when liberty is rightly understood it becomes the divinity of the human Race—and you, Sir, ought not be surprized that you are the Messiah of it.

“Those Officers who have not received their diplomas express the greatest desire to obtain that benefit—they have charged me to solicit it—deign, I pray you, to speak of it to His Excellency General Knox. All my friends threaten to quarrel with me if they have not also this signature which is superior to all titles. The name of Caesar among the Romans was considered as the first of all honorable titles—and the Emperors of Germany decorate themselves with it to this day; Cæsar enslaved his Country—you have liberated your’s. How much more worthy are you, than he, of this homage! Your fellow-citizens and posterity have decreed that the name of. . . [Washington] shall not be lessened by any qualifications (titles). The United States owe to you, peace & political energy—the two bases of all good Government, which cannot exist & be durable longer than while the executive authority enjoys all its powers within the immutable bounds of liberty. As an American Citizen I partake of this good fortune by my attachment to my new Country, and I take the most lively and sincere interest in the glory which you have procured for it; I do not fear to add, as a French Citizen, that I not only expect the moment in which I can say as much of this country—but that I think and hope it is not far distant” (DSoC). D’Estaing also wrote a private letter to GW on 20 Mar. 1790.

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