George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Noailles, 24 April 1790

From Noailles

Paris April 24th 1790.

Dear Général

I have, tho’ remote incessantly borne you that share of admiration you have filled every french man’s breast with who has marched under your colours; it is not only now with a Spirit replete with freedom that I durst address you, but partaking of all the rights nature has reserved to mankind and america has reaped the first benefits of. in the french revolution which portends the greatest blessings almost all those who have beheld the foundation of liberty in the United Provinces, have brought from thence of american Spirit and have displayed it with undaunted courage as they have had a hand in preparing the revolution so are they doomed in firmly supporting its Establishment. Such a Brotherhood has been of the utmost help, and will be our greatest prop, it is in your power to contribute to its indissolubility by a deed both equitable and useful, the National dignities are the only badges we Set a value on, and are willing to preserve. the Cross of St Lewis, the Sign of military Service is going to be confered throughout all the rangs of the army; Condescend in granting the Same favour on all the officers who have been under your orders and who have contributed as well as we to the salvation of the Commonwealth, Condescend to obtain for them the right of bearing the order of Cincinnatus, we Shall hold the dearer, when we behold our brethren dignified with it.1 fill up their Vow and our own it is in the name of the small army you had Some esteem for I durst petition the favour. it is granting us a second Reward of having our fellow at arms honoured as well as we with a benefaction that evinced that liberty has been labour’d for. Such a bounty were less pleasing and were perhaps impossible in Experiencing its influence if you were not so generous as to diffuse it over all those who are intitled to it.

the deliberation to be held on this request is that the officers of the french army who were in America at the time Mr de Rochambeau left the continent to repair to the leaward islands as also those of the legion of Lauzun be indulged with the leave of bearing the order of Cincinnatus provided they give an unexceptionable testimony of their Service and obtain a Certificate of their corps revised and signed by General Rochambeau.

Numbers of french officers have brought from the american war but scars. they will receive an healing remedy when they have an additional proof of their service. I have the honour to be with respect Dear General Your most humble and obedient servant

a member of the National assembly


Louis-Marie, vicomte de Noailles (1756–1804), Lafayette’s brother-in-law, served as colonel of the Soissonnais Regiment in Rochambeau’s army and was instrumental in constructing the allied works before Yorktown. Noailles continued in the army after the war, eventually reaching the rank of maréchal de camp (brigadier general). In 1789 he embraced the cause of the French Revolution. As a member of the Constituent Assembly on the night of 4 Aug. 1789, Noailles proposed the redemption of feudal dues and the abolition of seigneurial corvées and all remaining personal servitude, reforms that effectively dismantled the legal foundations of the feudal regime. By 1792 Noailles was disillusioned with the excesses of the Revolutionary regime and emigrated to England. In 1793 he came to the United States and remained until 1800. For a discussion of the difficulties his presence caused for GW, see GW to Alexander Hamilton, 5 May 1793.

1The founders of the Society of the Cincinnati, “deeply impressed with a sense of the generous assistance this country has received from France,” extended the privilege of membership to the four French admirals who had served in the Revolution along with Rochambeau and “the Generals and Colonels of his army” (Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, description begins Minor Myers, Jr. Liberty without Anarchy: A History of the Society of the Cincinnati. Charlottesville, Va., 1983. description ends 263–64). See also d’Estaing to GW, 8 Jan. 1784, Barras to GW, 23 Jan. 1784, La Bretonnière to GW, 1 Feb. 1784, n.1, Lafayette to GW, 9 Mar. 1784 (letters 1, 2, 3, and 4), Pierre-Charles L’Enfant to GW, 29 April 1784, General Meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati, 4–18 May 1784, appendix 3. Later, captains and majors were admitted to membership if they had reached the rank of colonel in the French army. Lafayette and Rochambeau were hesitant to present new candidates for membership, in part because the king, who oversaw the admission of new members, was reluctant to sponsor the extension of a society associated with a republican revolution. Louis XVI forbade admission of new members in September 1784 and, after making some exceptions, renewed the prohibition on 17 April 1785 (Meyers, Liberty without Anarchy, description begins Minor Myers, Jr. Liberty without Anarchy: A History of the Society of the Cincinnati. Charlottesville, Va., 1983. description ends 145–76; Rochambeau to GW, 9 Sept. 1784). The progress of the French Revolution and the decline of royal authority apparently prompted Noailles, who was an active member of the French society as well as a leader of reform in the assembly, to ask GW to authorize the extension of membership to all French officers who had served in America without regard to the standing royal prohibition against new members. GW did not respond to Noailles’s request. The act of the French assembly of 19 June 1790, abolishing hereditary titles, made further efforts to extend the membership of the Cincinnati unlikely, and on 18 Nov. 1793 the convention effectively suppressed the order by decreeing that “all citizens decorated with the cross of Saint Louis or other decorations” who did not turn them in would be subject to arrest (translation, Contenson, La Société des Cincinnati de France, description begins Baron Ludovic Guy Marie du Bessey de Contenson. La Société des Cincinnati de France et la guerre d’Amérique, 1778–1783. Paris, 1934. description ends 76–77).

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