George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Williams, 2 February 1795

From William Williams

Connecticut, Lebanon. 2d Feby 1795


It is not without concern & anxiety That I dare undertake to do an act which I fear may be considered a transgression of the rules of propriety. Your Excellency will be surprized but I hope not deeply & durably offended, that so small an Individual as I am sho’d presume to address a Letter to such a Personage as yourself. Your Excellency’s very great & all important Services to your Country, together with the assemblage of excellent virtues which compose & adorn your private Character, have long since, so deeply impressed & warmed my Heart, that I have done violence to my feelings so long to restrain (what I now fear to express, tho faintly) the sensations of Love, gratitude & veneration to You, which fill my Soul.

When America first began her late bold important Contest, destitute of Officers or Soldiers of experience, destitute of Arms & every Military Requisite, destitute of essential Resources &c.—among a thousand perplexities, it was not an inconsiderable one, to find a Commander in Chief, possessed of more then tenfold the qualifications, which wo’d have been sufficient in a great & well provided Nation, & one who wo’d also meet the perfect approbation of so many then unconnected, alienated & to each other unfriendly Republics—but the wisdom of Congress, under the guidance of Heaven, rekon’d upon a Washington & instantly murmur was hush’d & the Colonies vied with each other in expressing their Hearty & loudest, Amen. A Commission so arduous in the execution, & to be attended with ten thousand, not unforeseen, dangers, hardships fatigues & distresses; wo’d never have been accepted by a Gentleman abounding with Ease, Affluence, Honor & Felicity, but from motives of the purest Benevolence & Patriotism.

Your Excellency soon found an Army or Banditti of inexperienced officers & Soldiers or Men, at Cambredge, unacquainted with service or hardship, Strangers to the Duties & Discipline of Soldiers, almost totally unprovided with proper Arms & the most important Military Requisites, fired indeed with a temporary Enthusiasm, almost expiring with the Season, & by their ardent attatchment to Home, with these to combat a large & well appointed Army of experienced officers & veteran Soldiers of one of the most potent Monarch’s & warlike Nations on Earth. it requird consummate wisdom, Courage & Fortitude only to save our army from utter ruin, and she experienced not only that, but very great & important advantages over such an Enemy in that Campaign.

far from me to attempt the Detail of all your Excellency’s military Glory & Heroic Virtues, it wod be improper, & besides wo’d fill volumes. wo’d beg leave only to say Your Excellency found the virtue of the People, in reality much below their high sounding Professions, the Colonies very ill provided; & too little disposed to furnish their Quota’s of Men & means, for so arduous & unequal a Contest, & some of them almost expostulating, & of consequence such, delays, impediments & deficiencies from every Quarter, that Your Excellency faild of more than half the Support You was promised, & which doub[t]less conspir’d to induce You to undertake the glorious Struggle; ⟨while⟩ the Enemy were pouring in by thousands their home borne, & foreign mercenary Veterans, Sons of Plunder, Rapine & Murder perfectly equipd & furnished to execute their sanguinary purpose; & absolute Masters of the Sea so that with a small precarious, hungry & half naked Army at times, You had to encounter such mighty & superior Force & such & so many difficulties & hardships, as wo’d have damp’d the Courage of an Alexander & exhausted the Patience of the Princes of the Land of Ur. at Times the Heavens gathered blackness & our political Hemisphere was darker than midnight. in the midst of such a season, a dark & gloomy Picture of our condition but drawn to the Life, was exhibited to your enlightened View by the Confidence of a Mr Duche, but with what Firmness and dignified Indignation, did Your Excellency spurn at the proposal of aggrandizing Your Self by forfeiting the Cause of your Country. the Letter instantly transmitted to Congress, (I am a witness) raised, if possible the exalted opinion They had of Your Merit & immoveable Fidelity.1 Treason in Embryo, & Treason born into Life, your Wisdom & Vigilence detected & suppres’d & in every trying Scene your Prudence, Courage & Fortitude rose superior & triumphed in proportion to the exigence of the occasion. Your Heroic Deeds at Trenton Princetown & many other Places, exhibited the Intrepidity of Achilles & the Sagacity of Ulysses.2

twice was You created Dictator & never a Tongue complain’d of the use you mad[e] of that unlimited Power.3

In a word your Skill & Wisdom, your Courage, Fortitude & perseverence so defeated the Plans, so broke the strength & blasted the mighty Efforts of Britain’s King & convinced Him of the impossibility of conquering Columbia, led & commanded by a Washington, that his humbled Pride submitted to Terms of Peace & accomodation more advantageous & honorable than co’d possibly have been, at first, expected.

Thus, great Sir, under the Auspices & Blessing of almighty God, have You been the Saviour of Your Country, & as Such will be gratefully recognized to the last Period of Time. and having finished the great Work, with a Dignity becoming your Self you Resigned the high & honorable Betrustment & with Heartfelt Satisfaction, retired & wishd to retire like the great Dictator of Rome to the calm, peaceful & ⟨sweeter⟩ walks of private & domestic Life.4

but, Illustrious Sir, Your Country co’d not spare You yet & no sooner had the Heads of our Tribes formed our present wise & happy Constitution, calculated for a People of less virtue, than was contemplated by the old Confederation, than the sincere voice of Your fellow Citizens called & placed you at its Head, & in the highest & first Seat of Civil Government. which your Excellency accepted (as We verily believe) not from lucrative or ambitious Motives, but only to obey the Voice of Heaven, meet the ardent Wishes of your Country & teach them how to render the Independance you had gain’d a Blessing & not a Curse.

it rarely happens that a Person possessing the greatest military talents is best calculated for the Office of supreme Magistrate in Civil society; but your Excellency is one of the few exceptions wherein also your Character shines with distinguish’d Lustre.

The administration of the wisest & best Angel of Heaven, wo’d not give satisfaction to all the heterogenious mixture of Nations, Tongues & Languages which compose the great whole of this People, & to self created Jacobinical Clubs & Societies form’d & uphel’d in Life, only by principles of opposition, & to wrest the Strength & Energy of government out of the proper Hands. and Yours Sir, has had the full approbation (I trust) of every wise, honest & good Man.

Your Proclamation of Neutrality dictated by consummate Wisdom, Prudence & Benevolence has, probably, saved the United States from the summit of human Calamities, many millions of Treasure, ten thousands of Lives, & not improbably the ruin of the Constitution & the introduction of Anarchy.5

great was the Wisdom & equal the Success of your endeavors to remove the Incendiary, Genet, who with the assistance of some disaffected & some avaricious Spirits had made progress in disturbing the Peace of our Country.6

every patriot applauds the happy measure you adopted to compose the differences which existed with the haughty King & Nation of Britain, who compel’d by Your Prowess, yet indignant & with tardy steps, relinquish their Claim to Dominion over Us; the success of which, we hope & trust, will soon give us, an occasion to render you universal & ardent thanks.7

When lately not an inconsiderable number of rash & turbulent Men, mostly born in slavery & nurture’d in Ignorance were Fools & hardy enough to resist the Laws & defie the Constitution, from which They derive all their peace & safety, the kind & lenient measures you adopted to bring them to reason, became, the benevolence of your Heart, & when they faild, the strong & potent Arm of Justice & Terror, you lifted, the Dignity of your Station, your Fatigueing Personal Command watch8 & attendance gave Life to every motion & proceeded the happy Effect, to Awe those factious & deluded wretches to a sense of & return to their Duty, without inflicting the deserved punishment. it ⟨mutilated⟩ an Event alarming & disastrous in its appearance & pro⟨mutilated⟩ in the final Issue, ⟨thrice⟩ happy, as crushing ⟨mutilated⟩ Egg & exterminating the seeds of future Insu⟨rrectio⟩n.9

But to recount all the worthy deeds, done to this Nation by Your P[r]ovidence wo’d be, to detail all your public Acts.

You have Led us by the Integrity of your Heart, & guided us by the Skilfulness of your Hands, & like the great Patriot of old, You are accepted of the Mul[t]itude of your Bretheren seeking the wealth of Your People, & speaking peace to all their Seed.

Under God, We are very principally indebted to You Sir, for all the Peace, Happiness & unexampled prosperity of the United States. Yet Your Excellency assumes none of the Glory to your Self, but in your late Proclamation (to which we are soon, with Pleasure, to attend) “deeply penetrated with Sentiments of devout Reverence & affectionate Gratitude to Almighty God, you piously acknowledge Him as the great Ruler of Nations & the Author of all the manifold & signal Mercies which distinguish our Lot as a Nation.”10

We rejoyce to see the pious Emotions of Your Soul towards the most High who liveth forever & whose dominion is everlasting & Who doeth according to His Will in the Army of Heaven & among the Inhabitants of the Earth, & They that walk in Pride & the “arrogance of Prosperity,” He is able to abase.11

May your Excellency be ever under His blessed & holy protection & Care, Your important Life be, yet long, precious in his Sight & (as mortal must put on Immortality) at a distant period, exchange the Summit of Human Glory, for the far greater Glories of Heaven, which alone, is able to reward your incomparable Services to Your Country & to Mankind, which God, of his infinite mercy, Grant, thro the merits of Jesus Christ, the only Saviour.

so ardently wishes & prays one, who is Unworthy your notice, & wants words to express the dutifull Affection, Gratitude & veneration he bears to Your Excellency’s Person and Character.

Wm Williams

If it is possible for your Excellency to do any thing for the relief of your & America’s great & good Friend, the worthy, brave & noble, Fayette, I know it has been, & will be done.12

ALS, DLC:GW. William Williams (1731–1811), who had served as a Connecticut delegate to the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence, was at this time a county judge and member of the state council.

GW evidently misread the signature on this letter, as the internal address on his reply to Williams of 2 March reads, “Honble Jonathn Williams Esqr.”

1Williams was referring to the letter written to GW on 8 Oct. 1777 by the Rev. Jacob Duché of Philadelphia. Duché described the many problems that GW faced and continued, “Under so many discouraging circumstances, can Virtue, can honour, can the love of your country prompt you to persevere? Humanity itself (and sure I am, Humanity is no Stranger to your Breast) calls upon you to desist.” He urged GW to “represent to Congress the indispensible Necessity of rescinding the hasty & ill-advised declaration of Independency” (Papers, Revolutionary War Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. 22 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1985–. description ends , 11:430–37). The letter was not sent to GW until 13 Oct., and upon receiving it, he transmitted a copy to Congress, noting that he had told the bearer to inform Duché, “I should have returned it unopened, If I had had any idea of the contents” (Duché to GW, 13 Oct., and GW to John Hancock, 16 Oct. 1777, Papers, Revolutionary War Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. 22 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1985–. description ends , 11: 497, 527–28).

2Williams was referring to the American raid on Trenton, N.J., on 26 Dec. 1776 and the battle at Princeton, N.J., on 3 Jan. 1777.

3Williams probably was referring to the congressional resolutions of 27 Dec. 1776 and 17 Sept. 1777. The first gave GW for six months “full ample and complete Powers to raise and collect together in the most speedy & effectual Manner from any or all these United States sixteen Battalions of Infantry in Addition to those already voted by Congress; to appoint Officers for the said Battalions; to raise, officer and equip three Thousand Light-Horse; three Regiments of Artillery, and a Corps of Engineers and establish their Pay; to apply to any of the States for such Aid of the Militia as he shall judge necessary; to form such Magazines of Provisions and in such Places as he shall think proper; to displace and appoint all Officers under the Rank of Brigadier General, and to fill up all Vacancies in every other Department in the American Armies, to take where-ever he may be, whatever he may want for the Use of the Army, if the Inhabitants will not sell it, allowing a reasonable Price for the same; to arrest and confine Persons who refuse to take the Continental Currency, or are otherwise disaffected to the American Cause, and return to the States of which they are Citizens their Names and the Nature of their Offences, together with the Witnesses to prove them” (Hancock to GW, 27 Dec. 1776, n.1, Papers, Revolutionary War Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. 22 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1985–. description ends , 7:461–63). The second resolution gave to GW for sixty days power to impress and remove private property and to suspend and appoint officers, but only within “such Parts of these States, as may be within the Circumference of seventy Miles of the Head Quarters of the American Army” (Hancock to GW, 17 Sept. 1777, n.1, Papers, Revolutionary War Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. 22 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1985–. description ends , 11:254–55). The resolutions sent to GW are in DLC:GW (see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 6:1045–46; 8:751–52).

4Williams was comparing GW’s resignation of his commission in 1783 to the retirement of the Roman general Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.

5Williams was referring to GW’s neutrality proclamation of 22 April 1793.

6For the public controversy about the activities of Edmond Charles Genet, the French minister to the United States, see Genet to GW, 13 Aug. 1793, and notes. For the decision to request Genet’s recall, see the Cabinet opinion of 23 Aug. 1793.

7Williams apparently was referring to GW’s appointment in April 1794 of John Jay as a special envoy to Great Britain.

8Williams may have intended to substitute “Command” (which was added above the line) for “watch”; however, he did not strike out the latter word.

9Williams was referring to the 1794 insurrection in western Pennsylvania.

10The quoted material is more a paraphrase of GW’s proclamation of thanksgiving of 1 January.

11The quoted words are from GW’s proclamation of thanksgiving; the context is evidently an allusion to Daniel 4:37, “those that walk in pride he is able to debase” (KJV).

12For the capture and imprisonment of the Marquis de Lafayette, see Marquise de Lafayette to GW, 8 Oct. 1792, and Gouverneur Morris to GW, 23 Oct. 1792, n.1. GW had written Frederick William II of Prussia on 15 Jan. 1794 to request that Lafayette be released, and he also had sent money to Lafayette’s family (GW to Nicholas Van Staphorst and to the Marquise de Lafayette, 31 Jan. 1793).

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