George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Lee, 15 June 1792

From Henry Lee

Richmond June 15th 1792

My dear President

When I was in Norfolk I heard of your passing thro Baltimore on a visit to Mt Vernon, and flattered myself with being enabled to pay my respects to you, but on my return I heard of your departure for Philada.1

This happiness I must hope for on a future day.

In the mean time permit me to occupy a few moments of your time.

You cannot have forgotten a declaration which you made at your own table just before your acceptance of the arduous station you enjoy, which then sunk deep into my head and never can be eradicated, viz. that a frank communication of the truth to you respecting the public mind, would be ever received as the highest testimony of respect & attachment.2

Often have I wished to have presented you with evidence of my affection & devotion in conformity to the above declaration since your return to public life, but presuming that you might derive ample information from others, and distrusting my own enquiry and observations I have heretofore silenced my desire.

Nor indeed for the same reasons should I now commence the task did it not appear to me indispensably necessary, for if the information be accurate, you are deceived & abused by those in whom you place the highest confidence, and consequently your own character as well as the public interest may be submitted to derogation and injury—what one minister may have done on one occasion, may extend to all occasions and to all ministers.

You cannot be a stranger to the extreme disgust which the late appointment to the command of the army excited among all orders in this state, whether the same be just or not, is immaterial at present, or whether taking into view all the circumstances of the case a better appointment could have been made is by no means the object of my enquiry.3

The event was the subject of general conversation; during which period Col. Darke visited Richmond, and of course became a party in the opinions & communications given on the occasion. What he said to me was in my judgement necessary to you, and I took the liberty to write to Col. Darke requesting him to commit to paper the conversation between us the previous day.

This he did and I enclose it for your perusal.4

I thought it proper to send you the original, altho the hand writing is Rather obscure, least a copy might in any degree change the meaning of the communication.

If Col. Dark is right it follows clearly that in a very important matter to yourself & the community, one of your officers exerted himself to encrease certain difficultys which obstructed the execution of your own wishes, instead of endeavoring to remove them, acting in obedience to his own desire rather than follow the decision of his superior.

If your ministers dare thus to do, you must be subject to hourly impositions, and the national concerns will be regulated by their and not your judgement.

I have not nor shall I lisp a word of this communication to the gentleman whom it concerns—For yourself only it is intended.

It is not in my power to ascertain whether the same be true or not; you can readily distinguish this fact. Col. Darke is a man of truth and honor and he speaks positively.5

You will I trust, be the event as it may impute my conduct to the motives which produce it, respect, & attachment to yourself—personally I do not feel on the occasion, only that I can not dissemble the gratification which the opinion you was pleased to express of my talents afforded, and indeed I am candid to declare that I prefer such a testimonial, to the office itself to which I might have been appointed.6 I have the honor to be dear sir with the most affectionate respect & attachment your h: sert

Henry Lee


1GW left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon on 10 May and apparently began his return trip to the U.S. capital on 24 May 1792.

2GW repeated his desire for Lee to provide him with “every information that will enable me to . . . investigate with more accuracy the characters of public men—or the utility of public measures” in his letter to Lee of 30 June 1792.

3For the appointment of Anthony Wayne as a major general in the U.S. Army and as commander of yet another punitive expedition against the hostile Indians on the northwest frontier, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 9 April 1792. The Senate approved Wayne’s nomination on 11 April (Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:119).

4William Darke’s letter to Henry Lee of 12 May 1792 reads: “In answer to your Letter Concerning the Conversation I had the honor to have with the president, as it was not of a private nature—as far as it related to you, I will Give as Good an account as my Memory will alow—as it Could not be the presidents desire that I Should not. he Mentioned you as Commander in chief of the Army Spoke much in favour of your abilitys in So Respectful a maner that I thaught you would Certainly have bean apointed, he indeed Said Something of your Rank in the late Continantal Army—and asked me if I would Serve Should you be apointed to the Chief Command—which question I did not answer though I Confess I think I Should—but being so destressed in mind for Reasons that I need not Mention to you I did not Give his Excelency an answer, but Intended to do it before I left town, which I did not knowing he was Much ingaged in business of importance I was in doubts he would think I intruded, at the Same time was determined if you had bean apointed to have Gone with you and Given you what Little assistance I was Capable of—or indeed any other of my aquaintance that I thaught equal to that Grate and important trust. The Secretary at war Said Somthing to Me Concerning My excepting of Some apointment I told him I first wanted to know who would Command the Army and Said Somthing of you and Some other—[Henry Lee noted at this point: “Two conversations with the secretary of war; the first of which he urged the objections to my rank, persuading Col. Dark that he could not in honor serve under me the second conversation the same idea was pressed & the information given as to my appointment”] he let me understand Some time after, that he thaught I could not Serve with you with propriety, honour or words to that purpose—but that you would not be apointed—this I confess I thaught Genl Knox might be mistaken in, as from what I heared from the president I had a Right to Expect you would, I most Sincerely wish you had I would have bean with you, even if I had not bean apointed to any Command” (DLC:GW).

5For GW’s dismissal of the allegations of misconduct brought against Secretary of War Knox by Darke in his letter to Lee of 12 May, see GW to Lee, 30 June 1792.

6For GW’s evaluation of Lee’s abilities as a soldier, particularly in regard to Indian warfare, see Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum of a Meeting of the Heads of the Executive Departments, 9 Mar., and Memorandum on General Officers, 9 Mar. 1792.

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