George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lafayette, 28 July 1791

To Lafayette

Philadelphia, July 28. 1791.

I have, my dear Sir, to acknowledge the receipt of your favors of the 7 of March and 3 of May, and to thank you for the communications which they contain relative to your public affairs.1 I assure you I have often contemplated, with great anxiety, the danger to which you are personally exposed by your peculiar and delicate situation in the tumult of the times, and your letters are far from quieting that friendly concern. But to one, who engages in hazardous enterprises for the good of his country, and who is guided by pure and upright views, (as I am sure is the case with you) life is but a secondary consideration.

To a philanthropic mind the happiness of 24 millions of people cannot be indifferent—and by an American, whose country in the hour of distress received such liberal aid from the french, the disorders and incertitude of that Nation are to be peculiarly lamented—we must, however, place a confidence in that Providence who rules great events, trusting that out of confusion he will produce order, and notwithstanding the dark clouds which may threaten at present, that right will ultimately be established.

The tumultous populace of large cities are ever to be dreaded—Their indiscriminate violence prostrates for the time all public authority—and its consequences are sometimes extensive and terrible—In Paris we may suppose these tumults are peculiarly disastrous at this time, when the public mind is in a ferment, and when (as is always the case on such occasions) there are not wanting wicked and designing men, whose element is confusion, and who will not hesitate in destroying the public tranquillity to gain a favorite point—But until your Constitution is fixed—your government organised—and your representative Body renovated—much tranquillity cannot be expected—for, until these things are done, those who are unfriendly to the revolution, will not quit the hope of bringing matters back to their former state.

The decrees of the National Assembly respecting our tobacco and oil do not appear to be very pleasing to the people of this country; but I do not presume that any hasty measures will be adopted in consequence thereof; for we have never entertained a doubt of the friendly disposition of the french Nation towards us, and are therefore persuaded that if they have done any thing which seems to bear hard upon us, at a time when the Assembly must have been occupied in very important matters, and which perhaps could not allow time for a due consideration of the subject, they will, in the moment of calm deliberation, alter it, and do what is right.2

I readily perceive, my dear Sir, the critical situation in which you stand—and never can you have greater occasion to shew your prudence, judgment, and magnanimity.

On the 6 of this month I returned from a tour through the southern States, which had employed me for more than three months—In the course of this journey I have been highly gratified in observing the flourishing state of the Country, and the good dispositions of the people—Industry and economy have become very fashionable in those parts, which were formerly noted for the opposite qualities, and the labours of man are assisted by the blessings of Providence—The attachment of all Classes of citizens to the general Government seems to be a pleasing presage of their future happiness and respectability.

The complete establishment of our public credit is a strong mark of the confidence of the people in the virtue of their Representatives, and the wisdom of their measures—and, while in Europe, wars or commotions seem to agitate almost every nation, peace and tranquillity prevail among us, except on some parts of our western frontiers where the Indians have been troublesome, to reclaim or chastise whom proper measures are now pursuing—This contrast between the situation of the people of the United States, and those of Europe is too striking to be passed over even by the most superficial observer, and may, I believe, be considered as one great cause of leading the people here to reflect more attentively on their own prosperous state, and to examine more minutely, and consequently approve more fully of the government under which they live, than they otherwise would have done. But we do not wish to be the only people who may taste the sweets of an equal and good government—we look with an anxious eye for the time when happiness and tranquillity shall prevail in your country—and when all Europe shall be freed from commotions, tumults, and alarms.

Your friends in this country often express their great attachment to you by their anxiety for your safety.

Knox, Jay, Hamilton, Jefferson remember you with affection—but none with more sincerity and true attachment than, My dear Sir, Your affectionate

G. Washington.


1Lafayette’s letter of 3 May from Paris, which enclosed a copy of his speech of 22 April to the Paris commune and national guard (see Lafayette to GW, 6 June 1791, n.2), reads: “My dear General I Wish it Was in My power to Give You an Assurance that our troubles are at an End, and our Constitution totally Established—But altho dark clouds are Still Before us, We Came So far as to foresee the Moment When a Legislative Corps Will Succeed this Convention, and, Unless Foreign Powers interfere, I Hope that Within four Month Your friend Will Have Reassumed the life of a Private and Quiete Citizen. The Rage of Parties, Even Among the Patriots, is Gone as far as it is Possible, Short of Blood shed—But Altho’ Hatreds Are far from Subsiding, Matters don’t Appear So Ill disposed as they formerly were towards a Coalition Among the Supporters of the Popular Cause—I Myself am Exposed to the Envy and Attacks of all parties for this Simple Reason, that Who Ever acts or Means wrong finds me an insuperable obstacle, and there Appears a kind of phœnomenen in My Situation, all Parties Against me, and Yet a National Popularity Which in Spite of Every effort Has Been Unshakable—a proof of this I Had lately when disobeïed By the Guard, And Unsupported By the Administrative Powers Who Had Sent me, Unnoticed By the National Assembly Who Had taken fright, the King I do not Mention, as He Could do But little in the Affair, and Yet the little He did Was Against me, Given up to all the Madnesses of licence, faction, and Popular Rage, I Stood alone in defense of the law, and turned the tide Up into the Constitutional Channel—I Hope this lesson Will Serve My Country, and Help towards Establishing the Principles of Good order—But Before I Could Bring My fellow Citizens to a Sense of legal Subordination I Must Have Conducted them through the fear to loose the Man they love—inclosed is the Speech I delivered on the occasion—I send it Not for Any Merit of it, But on Account of the Great Effect it Had on the Minds of the People, and the discipline of an Army of five and forty thousand Men, Upwards of thirty of Whom are Volonteers, and Who to a Man are Exposed to all the Suggetions of a dozen of Parties, and the Corruptions of all kinds of pleasures and Allurements. The Commitee of Revision is Going to distinguish in our Immense Materials Every Article that deserves to Be Constitutional, and as I Hope to Convene in a tolerable State of Union the Members of that Committee, as their Votes Will in the House influence the popular Part of the Assembly, I Hope that Besides the Restoration of all Natural Rights, the destruction of all the Abuses, We May Present to the Nation Some Very Good institutions of Governement, and organïse it so as to Ensure to the people the Principal Consequences, and Enjoïements of a free Constitution, leaving the Remainder to the legislative Corps to Mend into well digested Bills, and Waïting Untill Experience Has fitted us for a More Enlightened, and less Agitated National Convention. in the Mean While our Principles of liberty and Equality are invading all Europe, and Popular Revolutions Ripening Every Where. Should foreign Powers Employ this Summer with Attaks Against our Constitution, there Will Be Great Blood shed, But our liberty Cannot fail us—we Have done Every thing for the General Class of the Country people, and in Case the Cities Were frightened into Submission, Yet the peasants Would Swarm Round me, and fight to death, Rather than Give up their Rights. Adieu, My Beloved General, My Best Respects Wait on Mrs Washington—Remember me to Hamilton, jay, jefferson, Knox, and all friends” (PEL).

2Lafayette informed GW on 7 Mar. of the French National Assembly decrees of 1 and 2 Mar. 1791 that increased the duties on American imports of tobacco and whale oil. Gouverneur Morris similarly wrote GW on 9 Mar. stating his hopes that Congress would not react precipitously, as the acts were not a deliberate movement of the national will, and that representations by the United States at the proper time would effect a change. GW probably discussed the matter with Thomas Jefferson after GW returned to Philadelphia on 6 July, as Jefferson had received on 22 June 1791 a dispatch on the subject from William Short dated 11 March. A policy was formulated before 28 July, when Jefferson sent instructions to Short (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 19:532–34). See also Lafayette to GW, 7 Mar. and note 1, Jefferson to GW, 30 July 1791 and note 1.

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