George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Arthur St. Clair, 26 March 1792

From Arthur St. Clair

Philadelphia March 26th 1792


I beg leave to offer you my unfeigned Thanks for the honor conferred upon me by the Appointment to the command of the Army of the united States the last Campaign. Though that Campaign was unfortunate, I am not conscious that any thing within my power to have produced a more happy Issue, was neglected. As I was prompted, Sir, to accept that Command by no motives of either Ambition or Interest, but by a fervent Wish to be of Service to my Country, and a Belief, perhaps too fondly entertained that I could be so; that I am led to decline it in future proceeds neither from Disgust nor Disapointment.

Having been much afflicted with Sickness during nearly the whole of the Campaign, tho’ I flatter myself the public Interests did not suffer by it; and although my Health is now tolerably restored, my Constitution has received a very severe shock, and I might not again be able to go through the weight of Business which necessarily follows the command of an Army.

Although Sir, I am myself persuaded that every thing was done, in the Course of the last Campaign, that could be done on my part, fully to answer the public Expectations, yet it is denied by some, doubted by many, and known to but few out of the Army—A Wish to rectify the public Opinion, and a Duty that, I conceive I owe to myself, induces me to request that an Enquiry into my Conduct may be instituted—When that is over I may hope to be permitted to resign the Commission of Major General which I now hold. Should the Result of the Enquiry be that, in any Instance, the Duties of my Station were neglected; or, that I did not improve every Hour, and every Opportunity to the best Advantage; or, that the Operations of the Army, after it was in a Condition to operate, were delayed one Moment in consequence of my illness, I shall patiently submit to the merited Censure.1

To whoever may be appointed my Successor, I shall be happy Sir, to give every Light and information my Situation as General of the Army, or of Governor of the western Territory put in my Power to obtain, and to evince to you Sir, and to the World, that the Confidence you were pleased to repose in me was not misplaced. With every Sentiment of Gratitude, of Respect, and allow me add of Affection I have the honor to be Sir, Your most obedient Servant

Ar St Clair

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; ADfS, OHi: Arthur St. Clair Papers; ADf, OHi: Arthur St. Clair Papers.

For the background to this letter, see GW to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 12 Dec. 1791, note 1, Henry Knox to GW, 22 Jan., note 2, 1 Mar. 1792, Knox to Tobias Lear, 31 Jan. 1792, note 1, GW to Thomas Jefferson, 2 Mar., and Jefferson to GW, 2 Mar. 1792. On 24 Feb. 1792 St. Clair submitted to GW a lost draft of this letter, which he asked the president to review before its intended publication. GW requested Knox and Jefferson to assist in drafting a proper reply (see GW to Knox, 29 Feb., note 1). St. Clair’s letter of this date with other correspondence concerning the resignation of his commission as major general appeared in the 16 April issue of the National Gazette (Philadelphia) (see GW to St. Clair, 28 Mar., 4 April, and St. Clair to GW, 31 Mar., 7 April).

If this was the letter that Tobias Lear returned to St. Clair by GW’s direction, then St. Clair did not send it until 28 Mar., when he put it under cover of a letter to Lear “with a request that it might be submitted to the President” (Lear to St. Clair, 28 Mar., DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

1Newspaper accounts initially absolved St. Clair of blame for the humiliating defeat of 4 Nov. 1791. For instance, the report in Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia) of 2 Jan. 1792 reads: “All accounts of the late action with the Indians reflect honour on the conduct of General St. Clair and his gallent troops.” After St. Clair arrived at the capital on 21 Jan., however, he became involved in a newspaper controversy. On 10 Feb. Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser published an “Extract of a letter from COLONEL——, Commanding Officer of a Frontier County, to a Member of Congress—dated Lexington, January, 1792,” in which Col. William Darke sharply criticized both St. Clair and GW’s administration: “That the executive should commit the reputation of the government, the event of a war already irksome to the people, and safety of the frontier, to a man, who from the situation of his health, was under the necessity of travelling on a bier, seems to have been an oversight as unexpected as it has been severely censured. A general, enwrapped ten-fold in flannel robes, unable to walk alone, placed on his car, bolstered on all sides with pillows and medicines, and thus moving on to attack the most active enemy in the world, was to the people of Kentuckey a Raree-shew of a very tragi-comical appearance indeed.” After discoursing on strategy, Darke condemned “the farcical pagaentry of dragging brass field pieces through an unexplored wilderness, to batter down the limbs of trees upon the enemy” as “an experiment too ridiculous to deserve serious reflection,” and he concluded “That an officer, commanding an army of near 3000 men, should suffer an enemy, capable of defeating him, to encamp within gun shot of his quarters, the night preceding the engagement, without acquiring the necessary information, is deemed an egregious error, an unwarrantable inattention, which calls aloud for public investigation.”

Index Entries