George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Armstrong, 2 February 1790

From John Armstrong

Carlisle [Pa.] 2d Feby 1790

Dear General

Notwithstanding how frequently your person and Office possess my thoughts, I have studiously avoided expressing them on paper lest I should add to that attention already so amply and so much better employed. Nevertheless

I must now beg leave to present my Congratulations to your Excellency on the pleasing appearance of our publick concerns, evinced by the apparent satisfaction of the populace, with the progress of Congress thus far: producing moderation of temper general quiet and at least a lisping approbation from various of the adversaries, who had not been a little, noisey, jealouse & turbulent heretofore. with respect to your own Administration, (as I believe you never suspected me of flattery) I ass[ure] you Sir, the plaudit may be said to be without a negative—your Several addresses to the Senate & Representatives, gave much Satisfaction, the last attracting every one as far as it is read.

These things, whatever our fate may be, are good omens, and clear ground of reverential gratitude to the great ruler of the universe especially when we take a Retrospective view of the troubles of Britain & Ireland particularly in the reign of Charles first—The present disturbences in various parts of Europe, and our own Situation not long since. may the humble prayers of all that serve God according to the Gospel of his son, be daily offered for that wisdom that is from above, and the perpetuity of his mercies to this young nation. As I do not sufficiently know the grounds of the controversie betwixt the Southern States & the Creek Indians, shall say no more than that it seems but right that such States as claim an extensive territory should prudently & gradually buy the natives out; looking on our Situation with the Indians of N. America in a very different light, from that of the Israelites & the early inhabitants of Canaan. We understand if her leaders do not soon repent, will require a Secret but watchful eye, but at this critical conjuncture (our Ally being on his back) Britain might be tempted to essay the Establishment of a Garrison there, but hope they will not.

I cannot close this letter without suggesting a few thoughts on a Subject of a private & very interesting nature to me, I hope your Excellency will bear with them. they relate wholly to my Youngest Son, whome without farther apology I would offer to your consideration for a publick employment.1 I will say very little of his qualifications, knowing how naturally a parent may be Suspected of partiality, others are often in this case better judges & I find they have ascribed to him both talents and honor. this far I may be permited to say—that if I were not pretty well Satisfied on these points, or knew the contrary, I should be the last man that would offer him—I know enough of publick life to be convinced that together with it’s incidents & appendages, it is neither the best for this life, nor that which is to come; yet as I dispair of convincing either him or his friends of this doctrine, or rather of converting them; I am left to choose between wishing him the servant of the State, or of the Continent, and cannot hesitate a moment in prefering the latter to the former, and particularly, your patronage to that of any other. as I neither know what Offices are yet to bestow, nor indeed what he would wish, the manner of employing him must entirely depend on your Excellency. I will only add my Assurance that you will be pleased to consider this as the confidential letter of an Old and very Sincere friend & humble Servant

John Armstrong


For an identification of Armstrong, see his letter to GW, 27 Jan. 1789, source note.

1Armstrong’s youngest son was John Armstrong, Jr. (1758–1843). As an officer in the Continental army, the younger Armstrong was closely associated with Horatio Gates and composed the famous “Newburgh Letters” in 1783, inciting unrest among the officers of GW’s army. In 1784 he secured an appointment as secretary to the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania, and he later served as state adjutant general and, from 1787 to 1789, as a delegate to the Confederation Congress. He made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1789 and in January of that year married Alida Livingston, a member of the Clermont branch of New York’s influential Livingston family and the sister of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston. The couple subsequently moved to New York where John Armstrong, Jr., established himself as a landlord and farmer. Unsuccessful in his first attempt to secure a position for his son, the elder Armstrong continued to seek an appointment for him, writing to GW again on 29 Dec. 1790, reminding the president that he had written a letter respecting “my youngest Son” which “I have been fully led to believe you never received.” GW responded on 6 Feb. 1791, explaining his determination to remain “to the last moment free and unengaged” in regard to appointments. “I have the best disposition to serve the person whom you then recommended,” GW wrote, “and in what may comport with circumstances and public propriety, I shall be happy to do so. At present I know not what offices may be created, and applicants multiply with every new office and some of them come forward under such fair pretensions and pressing wants that a Preference is difficult and painful in the extream. In a word, to a man who has no ends to serve, nor friends to provide for, nominations to office is the most irksome part of the executive trust.” GW eventually offered the younger Armstrong the post of supervisor of the revenue for New York (Alexander Hamilton to Armstrong, 1 April 1793, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 14:269–70). An entry in the Journal of the Proceedings of the President for 26 April 1793 states: “The Secretary of the Treasury laid before me a letter from Mr. John Armstrong in which he resigns his late appointmt. of Supervisor of New York and assigns as a reason therefor, the increased expense of living in the City, which would more than swallow up the Salary & his own income” (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 120).

Index Entries