George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Brown, 2 April 1794

From Joseph Brown

No. 3. Lower Terrace Islington (near London)
April 2 1794

Honoured Sir

A few years ago I had the honour to address to your Excellency a pair of Prints, one of Yourself, another of the late General Green, the receipt of which you did me the favour to acknowledge, another pair of them very elegantly framed were sent to Congress, whose acceptance of them, I requested on condition of their being hung up in some public part of the Building wherein they held their deliberations; I afterward reced. a Letter in which these prints were mentioned by the Secretary, but whether Captn Cooper of the Edward New York Trader (a lying Scot!) did not as I believe he was very capable of doing, play me a trick, by assuming to himself whatever merit could be due to the present, I never had any opportunity of knowing.1

It is with unspeakable pleasure that I have since observed Sir, that the homage which is so justly due to your Character & Talents, has been so generally displayed by every Class of your Fellow Citizens, who with so much honour to themselves & advantage to the Common-Wealth, have repeatedly testified their grateful sense of your eminent services to your Country & to Mankind by re-electing You the Chief of Freemen.2

May America long enjoy the benefit of your wise & salutary Council, & as she is the depository of rational Freedom and the Asylum of persecuted Merit every Country, I trust your eforts to preserve Peace will be attended with success. Genet, the supercillious Frenchman was kept at a prudent distance, & at the time he was endeavoring to be troublesome by his teezing impertinence, I observed that nationalists described a species of Cats, by his name.3

Long ’ere this you must have been informed that “in the hour of our insolence” when we were in possession of Toulon;4 when the combined powers upon the European Continent were likely to penetrate France, our Court were not only endeavoring to bully Sweden, Denmark, the Swiss Cantons and the Republic of Genoa to become parties in a War, begun under a pretence of the love of Order & humanity, but in reality design’d to tear up every vestige of European Liberty & to perpetuate the reign of Popery & Superstition; our Cabinet (the 6 of Novr last) issued a most arbitrary Edict, to seize your Vessels in defiance of the law of Nations:5 Toulon however being about to be disgracefully abandoned, and the Forces of the Crowned Conspirators being constrained by the French Republicans to retreat beyond the Rhine, Pitt and his detestable Junto were under the necescesity of lowering their haughty & unjust pretentions, but no doubt many vessels belonging to the subjects of the United States have been seized in consequence of the arrogant Orders sent from hence & tyrannically detained in the West Indies;6 ’tis therefore with pleasure that I have read of your pacify plan of Reprisals viz. That of levying a duty on British Ships & British Merchandize to reemburse those who may be sufferers by British depredation.7

When Bowles, was in this Country I expected that he & his wretched associates would only return to America to stimulate the Savages (less savage than they who prompted the Massacres which have happened on your Frontiers) to give every annoyance & check to the rising Greatness of your Country,8 which excites in the bosoms of your antient Enemies in this, the most malignant sensations, in as much as those who are best acquainted with the insidious Arts of the vile Hypocrite—the successful Apostate who now directs the public Measures of this Kingdom, are at no loss to conjecture, by whom the Algerines have been stimulated to harrass & to plunder your Commerce.9

The Empress of Russia who held during our wicked war with North America, very different opinions respecting the Rights of Neutral Nations in one of her late Manifestos declared that “no Faith was to be held with Rebels,” hence it is easy to perceive that if the confedracy of “crowned Robbers,” could succeed in their impious endeavors to legislate for the Republic of France, nothing but the weakness & poverty of “the high contracting Parties”, would prevent their undertaking a Cruisade to give or rather in the hope of giving a Monarchical form of Government to your United States:10 May divine Providence grant, that their Republican Government may be incorruptible & immortal. Liberty is in this Country in a most drooping and retrograde State: free & liberal discussions are no longer safe & under the pretext of accusations of Sedition, several worthy Persons are suffering fine & imprisonment, and four worthy persons are sentenced to 14 years transporation, for no other offence than insisting on the necessity of a more equal representation of the people, which about 11 years ago lifted the Duke of Richmond and Mr Pitt, into the most lucrative & distinguishd offices in the Kingdom,11 verifying the words of Dr Garth,

Here little Villains must submit to fate

That Great Ones may enjoy the World in state.12

The worthy & justly celebrated Dr Priestley justly alarmed at these sentences & having for some time been harrassed, vilified & persecuted by the venial tools of Government has determined to expatriate himself & to seek a peaceful asylum in the united States; the circumstances that occasion his departure are a disgrace to the Age & Nation13—“whose Sons will blush their Fathers were his Foes”.14 Nothing should have prevented my following his example, but the insuperable aversion to a Sea Voyage entertained by my Wife, the amiable constant & affection partner of my sufferings when in consequence of events connected with the late war I lost a respectable Fortune.

If by the mysterious dispensations of Providence I should have the misfortune to be bereaved of my dear Consort, the best the most precious gift which Heaven ever bestowed on me although I am near 50 years of Age I shall wish & endeavour that my last sleep shall be in America.

A Friend is this moment come in, who tells me that an Article is entered on Lloyds’ Book,15 that is intended to inform the Underwriters the Algerines have fitted out Sixteen sail of Ships to cruise against the Ships belonging to the United States; if that is true & I fear ’tis too probable however humiliating the measure may appear, the most prudent step that appears to us possible for the preservation of your Trade, is to give the Pirates a larger Bribe than they have obtained to stimulate them to this plan of Robbery. There is every reason to believe that the Prussian Monarch sick of the disasters of the War & probably gained over by an enormously doucer is about to withdraw the greater part of his Troops from the frontier of France, but the inveteracy of our Court to the principles of Freedom will nevertheless determine them to try the fortune of another (fruitless) Campaign.16

Fearing that I have treaspassed too long on your valuable moments I beg leave to subscribe myself with the most profound veneration & gratitude Honoured Sir Your most obedt & very humb. Servt

Joseph Brown

N.B. You will probably Sir before the receipt of this Letter have heard that an ineffectual attempt has been made in our Ho. of Commons to stir the Governmt to interfer in behalf of your ill-fated Friend (my respectable & ⟨va⟩lued Correspondent) M. de la Fayette: Burke opposed it on the ground of his having been in Arms against this Country: whereas he saw no improperiety formerly in himself moving for the enlargemt of Mr Laurens, who had been a President of Congress from the Tower, & afterwards meeting him at my House, though the motion was not immediately successful.17


1The letter from British publisher Joseph Brown to GW of 12 Sept. 1785 has not been found. On the creation of the “mezzotinto” prints of GW and Nathanael Greene that were sent to GW, on the portraits sent for display in the chambers of Congress, and for Brown’s correspondence in 1785 and 1786 with Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, see the notes for GW to Brown, 30 May 1786 (Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends , 4:84–86).

2On GW’s election to a second term as president, see n.1 of a Conversation with a Joint Committee of Congress, 9 Feb. 1793.

3Edmond Genet was the former French minister to the United States. On the Washington administration’s decision to ask the French government for Genet’s recall, see Cabinet Opinion, 23 Aug. 1793. The genet is a small, catlike creature of the family Viverridae, which also includes civets and mongooses. The common species, Genetta vulgaris, is found in the south of France. It can emit a foul-smelling substance to deter its enemies.

4The French port of Toulon was briefly controlled by the Royalist party with the aid of the British navy, but after a prolonged siege by the forces of the French republicans, the port fell on 19 Dec. 1793.

5The edict of 6 Nov. 1793 instructed the commanders of British ships of war and privateers “That they shall stop and detain all ships laden with goods the product of any colony belonging to France, or carrying provisions or other supplies for the use of any such colony, and shall bring the same with their cargoes, to legal adjudication in our courts of admiralty.” On 8 Jan. 1794 the government issued new instructions, in which the edict of 6 Nov. was revoked. These new instructions, however, contained more detailed regulations that required the capture of vessels engaged in trade with the French West Indies, thereby still leaving American shipping subject to British seizure (ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:430–31). Emmerich de Vattel’s three-volume work on international law was published in English as The Law of Nations; or Principles of the Law of Nature: Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns (London, 1760).

6William Pitt the Younger served as prime minister of Great Britain from 1783 until 1801. At this point in time, the First Coalition, composed of the kingdoms of Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Spain, was actively engaged in the war with France. French victories over Austrian and Prussian forces at Wattignies on 16 Oct., Fröschwiller on 22 Dec., and Geisberg on 26 Dec. 1793 bolstered republican spirits. For a recent list of American ships detained in the West Indies, see Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 11 March 1794.

7On 3 Jan., James Madison introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives seven resolutions that were designed to create a policy of commercial retaliation against the British. For these resolutions, see Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 155–56.

8On the intrigues of William Augustus Bowles among the Creek Indians, see the source note for the Secret Article of the Treaty with the Creeks, 4 Aug. 1790, which was enclosed in GW to the U.S. Senate, 4 Aug. 1790, and n.1 of Henry Knox to GW, 14 Nov. 1791. Bowles was arrested by the Spanish in late February 1792 and spent the next five years in a series of Spanish prisons.

9On the British role in obtaining a truce between Portugal and Algiers, which left American shipping in the Atlantic Ocean vulnerable to seizure by the Algerines, see n.9 of Tobias Lear to GW, 4 February.

10In a proclamation of 29 Feb. 1780, Catherine the Great of Russia helped define the concept of armed neutrality, which was then incorporated in a defensive treaty between Russia, Denmark, and Sweden that was designed to protect neutral shipping during a time of war. Other European nations later joined the League of Armed Neutrals. See Samuel Flagg Bemis, A Diplomatic History of the United States (rev. ed., New York, 1947), 38–41. On 25 March 1793, however, Russia and Great Britain signed a convention in which both parties agreed to stop all shipment of provisions or military supplies to French ports (Parry, Consolidated Treaty Series description begins Clive Parry, ed. The Consolidated Treaty Series. 231 vols. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1969-81. description ends , 51:491–97; ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:243).

11Charles Lennox, the third duke of Richmond, was currently a member of Pitt’s cabinet and the master-general of ordnance for Great Britain.

12The quotation is from The Dispensary, a mock heroic poem written by English physician and poet Sir Samuel Garth (1661–1719) and published in London in 1699.

13Theologian, scientist, and radical thinker Joseph Priestley and his wife, Mary, left England in April 1794 for the United States, where they settled in Northumberland, Pa., for the remainder of their lives.

14This quotation is a slight variant of a verse from the fourth epistle of An Essay on Man, which the English poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744) published in 1734.

15By 1794, Lloyd’s Coffee House, located in the Royal Exchange, London, no longer served coffee, but instead consisted of a society of insurance underwriters for ships and cargoes. Lloyd’s eventually was incorporated by an act of Parliament in 1871.

16Frederick William II was the current ruler of Prussia, which, as an ally of Austria, had been at war with France since 1792. Prussia, however, agreed to a separate peace with France in the Treaty of Basle, 5 April 1795.

17The Marquis de Lafayette currently was being held prisoner by the Prussians in the fortress at Neisse in Silesia. On the recent debate in the House of Commons on whether the British government should undertake a diplomatic effort to obtain Lafayette’s release from prison, see Parliamentary History of England description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. 36 vols. London, 1806–20. description ends , 31:28–54. Henry Laurens had been captured at sea by the British on 3 Sept. 1780 and subsequently held prisoner in the Tower of London, from 6 Oct. 1780 until 31 Dec. 1781. On Edmund Burke’s presentation of Lauren’s petition for release, dated 1 Dec. 1781, to the House of Commons on 20 Dec. 1781, see Parliamentary History of England description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. 36 vols. London, 1806–20. description ends , 22:877–78.

Index Entries