George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Lee, 20 October 1794

To Henry Lee

United States (Bedford [Pa.]) Octr 20th 179⟨4⟩


Being about to retur⟨n⟩ to the seat of Government, I cannot t⟨ake⟩ my departure without conveying thro⟨ugh⟩ you to the Army under your command, t⟨he⟩ very high sense I entertain of the enlightened and patriotic zeal for the Constitution and the Laws, which has led them ⟨so⟩ chearfully to quit their families and home⟨s⟩ and the comforts of private life, to undertake, and thus far to perform, a long a⟨nd⟩ fatieguing march—& to encounter an⟨d⟩ endure the hardships & privations of a Military life. Their conduct hither⟨to⟩ affords a full assurance that their perseverence will be equal to their zeal, a⟨nd⟩ that they will continue to perform with alacrity whatever the full accomplishment of the object of their March shall render necessary.

No citizens of the United Sta⟨tes⟩ can ever be engaged in a Service more important to their Country. It is nothin⟨g⟩ less than to consolidate, and preserve th⟨e⟩ blessings of that Revolution which, at much expence of blood & treasure, constituted us a free & Independant Natio⟨n⟩. It is to give to the World an illustrio⟨us⟩ example of the utmost consequence to the cause of mankind. I experience a heart-felt satisfaction in the conviction that, the conduct of the Troops throughout will be in every respect answerable to the goodness of the cause, and the magnitude of the stake.

There is but one point on which I think it proper to add a special recommendation. It is this, that every Officer and soldier will constantly bear in mind that he come⟨s⟩ to support the laws, and that it would be peculiarly unbecoming in him to be in any way the infractor of them—that the essential principles of a free government confine the province of the Military when called forth on such occasions,1 to these two objects.

First—to combat, and subdue all who may be found in arms in opposition to the National Will & authority.

Secondly—to aid & support the Civil Magistrate in bringing offenders to justice. The dispensation of this justice belongs to the Civil Magistrate—and let it ever be our pride, and our glory, to leave the sacred deposit there, unviolated.

Convey to my fellow Citizens in arms, my warm acknowledgments for the readiness with which they have hitherto seconded me ⟨i⟩n the most delicate, and momentous duty the chief Magistrate of a free people can have to perform—and add my affectionate wishes for their health, comfort and success. Could my further presence with them have been necessary, or compatible with my civil duties at a period when the approaching commencement of a Session of Congress peculiarly urges me to return to the seat of Government, it would not have been withheld. In leaving them, I have less regret, as I know I commit them to an able and faithful direction; and that this direction will be ably and faithfully seconded by all.2

Go: Washington

ALS, owned (2011) by Lt. Col. Fitzhugh B. Lee, USMC retired, Pensacola, Fla.; LB, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 93, War Department Collection, Revolutionary War Records; copy, DLC: Papers of James Stephenson; copy (French translation), FrPMAE: Cor. Polit., États Unis, vol 42. This letter was included by Lee in his general orders of 21 Oct. and was widely reprinted in the newspapers. Where the ALS is damaged, the characters in angle brackets have been supplied from the letter-book copy.

1The previous six words do not appear in the letter-book copy.

2On this date Alexander Hamilton wrote, “in special instruction from the President,” a long letter to Lee conveying on GW’s behalf “instructions for the general direction of your conduct in the command of the Militia army.” The object of the militia, Hamilton wrote, was to suppress the combinations that had arisen in opposition to the excise law and “To cause the laws to be executed.” This would be effected by military force and “By judiciary process, and other civil proceedings.” Lee was to “proceed as speedily as may be … into the insurgent counties to attack, and as far as shall be in your power subdue, all persons whom you may find in arms, in opposition to the laws.” He was to “march your army in two columns … by the most convenient routes … bearing in mind, that you ought to act, till the contrary shall be fully develloped, on the general principle of having to contend with the whole force of the Counties of Fayette, Westmoreland, Washington and Alleghany, and of that part of Bedford which lies westward of the town of Bedford; and that you are to put as little as possible to hazard.”

After arrival, “if an armed opposition appear, it may be proper to publish a proclamation, inviting all good citizens, friends of the Constitution and laws, to join the standard of the United States. If no armed opposition exist, it may still be proper to publish a proclamation, exhorting to a peaceable and dutiful demeanour, and giving assurances of performing … whatsoever may have been promised by the Commissioners to those who have complied with the conditions prescribed by them. . . .

“Of those persons in arms, if any, whom you may make prisoners; leaders, including all persons in command, are to be delivered up to the civil magistrate: the rest to be disarmed, admonished and sent home.”

In his troop dispositions, Lee also was to “support and aid the civil officers” in executing their duties, “bringing offenders and delinquents to justice,” and “seizing the stills of delinquent distillers.”

Lee was to instruct District Attorney William Rawle to procure arrests of “all influential actors in riots and unlawful assemblies … who shall not have complied with the terms offered by the Commissioners; or manifested their repentance in some other way, which you may deem satisfactory”; to “cause process to issue for enforcing penalties on delinquent distillers”; and to have those arrested conveyed to jails “where there will be no danger of rescue.” Rawle had with him, Hamilton noted, a list of those who had “availed themselves of the offers of the Commissioners on the day appointed.”

After the insurrection was sufficiently subdued “so as to render it proper for the army to retire (an event which you will accelerate as much as shall be consistent with the object) you will endeavour to make an arrangement for detaching such a force as you deem adequate … to afford protection to well-disposed Citizens, and to the officers of the revenue, and to repress by their presence, the spirit of riot & opposition to the laws.

“But before you withdraw the army, you will promise on behalf of the President a general pardon to all such as shall not have been arrested, with such exceptions as you shall deem proper.”

Lee also was urged “to exert yourself by all possible means to preserve discipline among the troops, particularly a scrupulous regard to the rights of persons and property and a respect for the authority of the civil magistrate” (Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 17:331–36).

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